Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says if her party wins the upcoming general elections she will lead the country from behind the scenes, circumventing a clause in the constitution that bars her from the presidency.
If the November 8 vote is credible, most observers believe Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party will win the most seats in the country’s parliament, and could even control a majority by forming a coalition with smaller parties.
“I’ve made it quite clear that if the NLD wins the elections and we form a government, I’m going to be the leader of that government whether or not I’m the president,” Suu Kyi told Indian television channel India Today TV in a wide-ranging interview broadcast Wednesday.
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A clause in the 2008 constitution, drafted when the country was under military rule, says anyone whose spouse or children have foreign citizenship cannot hold the president’s office. This prevents Suu Kyi from taking the job because her late husband and two children are British nationals.
The clause was widely perceived as tailor-made to block Suu Kyi, and an insurmountable hurdle for her. But her comments showed her clear determination to get around it and will also give renewed boost to hopes for a more democratic Myanmar.
Asked how she could be the leader without being the president, Suu Kyi replied with a smile: “Why not? Do you have to be a president in order to lead a country?”
“The leader of the NLD government will have to be me because I am the leader of my party,” she said.
There are no obvious alternatives within her party’s ranks.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, began moving from a half-century of military rule toward democracy in 2011. Though there are many concerns, including the exclusion of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from the process and irregularities in voting lists, most observers believe next month’s elections are the country’s best chance in decades for relatively free and credible polls.
Under the constitution, however, the military will hold 25 percent of the seats in parliament regardless of the outcome. It also will retain control of all portfolios related to national security. So, for the NLD to be in power, it would have to win 67 percent of the seats, either by itself or in a coalition, to have a simple majority in parliament.
Suu Kyi said in the interview that the constitution needs to be amended to change the military’s seat allotment, a comment she acknowledged was likely to anger the still-powerful military.
Suu Kyi was under house arrest during 1990 elections that were swept by her party, but the military annulled the results and refused to hand over power. The following year, she won the Nobel Peace Prize, but the junta confined her to her home for much of the next 20 years.
She has plans for reforming the constitution, including the clause that bars her from seeking the presidency, but would not elaborate.
“I am not going to tell you about them now,” she said. Asked again if she had a strategy for reforms, she said: “Of course. We can’t be a party like ours and not have a plan in mind.”
The general elections will be followed by a presidential election early next year when the army and the elected members of parliament nominate a total of three candidates, and then all lawmakers vote to elect the president.
Suu Kyi was asked if there is any possibility that the citizenship clause would be lifted before the presidential election, to which she answered: “Anything is possible in politics … I don’t rule out anything in politics.”