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Ethnic Issues

Suu Kyi Says Burma to Amend ‘World’s Most Difficult’ Constitution

Burma will amend its constitution following multi-party talks in Rangoon, but no word yet on whether The Lady will be allowed to run for office.


RANGOON — Aung San Suu Kyi announced Burma will amend its constitution to change the role of the military in politics, strengthen federalism and reform the judiciary, in Rangoon on Friday.

But it was not clear whether future amendments would allow the pro-democracy icon to run for the presidency in elections slated for 2015. Suu Kyi told reporters at the conclusion of the three-day talks that specific amendments had not been discussed, and she was not willing to comment on a possible future presidential bid at the present time.

“The Burmese constitution is one of the most difficult constitutions to amend in the world,” Suu Kyi told The Irrawaddy. “I would like to amend the constitution as soon as I can.”

When asked about whether the constitution would be amended to allow her to run for president in 2015, she said no specific amendments had been decided on.

“I’m not willing to discuss that matter at the present time,” she told reporters.

The announcement came after three days of talks led by Sydney University and including government representatives, political parties, academics, ethnic minority groups and civil society activists. The meeting was the first of its kind with such a broad spectrum of influential parties involved, including members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is dominated by former military officials.

The Constitution was written under the former military government in which current President Thein Sein was prime minister, and the USDP was set up largely as a civilian proxy of the military.

“At present, the constitution is the most difficult constitution in the world to amend, the most difficult,” Suu Kyi told reporters. “If we want to amend the constitution, we have to change the process of amendment.”

The constitution requires a majority of more than 75 percent to pass legislation, while 25 percent of seats are reserved for the military. “This is impractical,” Suu Kyi said. Amending the constitution requires a vote in which more than 50 percent of elected officials must support the amendments, she added.

But Suu Kyi said at the meeting that the party which she leads, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the USDP had agreed to work together on drafting the amendments. She told The Irrawaddy, however, that it was a little early to talk about forming a coalition with the USDP ahead of the 2015 election.

“If they really want to change the constitution, there’s no reason not to fully co-operate with them,” Suu Kyi said. “All together we can co-operate. The USDP made a proposal to organize the committee to amend the constitution. We did support that proposal.”

Conflict with armed ethnic minorities seeking greater autonomy has defined much of the country’s history since it obtained independence from Britain in 1948. In early April, fighting broke out in Shan State in eastern Burma between government forces and ethnic Shan rebels.

“Peace doesn’t mean only ceasefire agreements,” Suu Kyi told The Irrawaddy, referring to the recent resurgence of violence in ethnic areas. “We all have to preserve peace. We all have to take more steps to preserve peace.”

“Now the war happened because we didn’t take any steps [to stop it], that’s why war happened. To preserve peace in Shan State, Kachin State and elsewhere, we have much work to do. One of them is the amendment of the constitution.”