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Politics

Shwe Mann: Article 59 Not Our Only Priority

The USDP chairman would support a Suu Kyi presidency but says changing a constitutional article barring her from the post is not his party’s focus.


NAYPYIDAW — Shwe Mann, the Union Parliament speaker and chairman of Burma’s ruling party, says he would support an Aung San Suu Kyi presidency, but that changing the constitutional article currently blocking her from the position is not his only priority for amendments.

Speaking on Thursday in Naypyidaw, Shwe Mann, who has also expressed ambitions to be Burma’s next president in 2015, said his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was not specifically focused on changing Article 59 (F).

“I would personally be glad if Ama Gyi becomes president,” he told reporters at the Lower House of Parliament, referring to Suu Kyi. Ama Gyi means elder sister in Burmese. “I will not block it, and I would even welcome it by cooperating with her. I will do whatever I can for the good of the country—however I can help at this time. But I am not looking only to amend Article 59 of the Constitution.”

It was the first time Shwe Mann has directly addressed the issue of amending Article 59. The article prohibits anyone from becoming president if their family members are foreign nationals, and Suu Kyi’s two sons hold British citizenship.

Shwe Mann has developed a close relationship with Suu Kyi since she was elected to Parliament in 2012, and some Burmese political observers say they believe he would support her if she were able to become president.

Late last month his USDP party announced that it had proposed changes to over 50 points in the Constitution, including Article 59. Among the proposals was a recommendation to allow a presidential candidate to take office if his or her children and spouse adopted Burmese citizenship.

It is not possible to have dual citizenship in Burma, so Suu Kyi’s sons would need to renounce their British citizenship.

Suu Kyi said she would allow her sons, both adults, to make their own decision. “Since they turned 21 years old I have not had the right to decide for them,” she said in an earlier interview with Radio Free Asia’s Burmese service. “It would not be up to the standards of democracy if there was a law to decide for them.”

Parliament’s 109-member Constitutional Review Joint Committee is accepting proposals for constitutional changes and is expected to issue its own recommendations later this month.

Asked by The Irrawaddy how the government might respond if Suu Kyi were to boycott the 2015 election, as she has threatened to do in the event that her party’s proposed amendments are not adopted, Shwe Mann said it was too early to say.

Suu Kyi first raised the possibility of a boycott while speaking to thousands of supporters at a National League for Democracy (NLD) rally in Pegu Division in December. Adopting a harder line on constitutional reform, she warned that those taking part in the election under the current military-drafted charter could see their reputations damaged. “Those who have dignity should not join the 2015 elections unless there is an amendment to the Constitution,” she said. “There will be no fair election with the current Constitution.”

The opposition leader is currently touring the country and holding rallies to drum up support for her campaign to have the 2008 Constitution amended. In Chin State, she said she would wait to see how far constitutional changes went before making a decision about participation in the election.