WASHINGTON — The United States says Burma should reform its Constitution to allow its citizens a free choice over who should be its next president, but Burma’s government said Tuesday that is none of Washington’s business.
A parliamentary committee in Burma last week voted against changing a constitutional clause that bars opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. National elections are due in 2015.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that enabling the Burmese people to freely choose who they want to lead them in the next phase of its democratic transition will help to ensure stability.
“We believe constitutional reform should pave the way for the Burmese to freely choose their president in a free and fair 2015 election,” Psaki said in a written response to a question posed at a news briefing Monday. Reform should also address ethnic minority rights and decrease the role of active-duty military in political structures, she said.
In response, Burma’s presidential spokesman Ye Htut said Tuesday it’s the responsibility of Burma’s Parliament and people to decide how the Constitution should be amended.
“It is not the concern of the United States. It is inappropriate for us to tell how the U.S. should amend their constitution and likewise the U.S should not dictate how it should be amended,” he told The Associated Press by email.
That testy response reflects signs of fraying in the US-Burma relationship.
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been a staunch supporter of President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government as he steers the Southeast Asian nation from decades of oppressive military rule. The United States has restored full diplomatic relations and rolled back sanctions, helping Burma to shake off its pariah status.
But the United States has also been critical of the government’s response to bouts of anti-Muslim violence in the predominantly Buddhist nation. Last week the State Department voiced serious concerns about proposals to criminalize interfaith marriage.
The current constitution gives the military an effective veto over constitutional amendments, and includes a clause that bars anyone whose spouse or children are loyal to foreign countries from becoming president or vice president. Suu Kyi’s late husband and her two sons are British citizens.
If the parliamentary committee’s recommendation is endorsed by the full Parliament, it is likely to have a significant impact on the 2015 election. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party is expected to mount a strong challenge, with a good possibility of winning, but without Suu Kyi as a prospective president, its backers may flag in their support.
Suu Kyi is widely respected in Washington because of her long and peaceful struggle against military rule. She spent years under house arrest before her release in 2010 and election to Parliament in 2012.