President Suu Kyi? Amend Constitution First, Say MPs

By Saw Yan Naing 1 October 2012

Burma’s controversial 2008 Constitution would have to be amended if opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi were ever to become president, according to elected politicians in the new Parliament.

The prospect of Suu Kyi’s potential presidency was raised this weekend by none other than the incumbent President Thein Sein of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). During a televised interview on the BBC program “Hardtalk,” Thein Sein raised eyebrows by declaring that he “would accept” Suu Kyi as president if the majority voted for her in the 2015 general election.

“Whether Aung San Suu Kyi becomes the leader of the nation depends on the will of the people. If the people accept her, then I will have to accept her,” Thein Sein said.

“There isn’t any problem between me and Aung San Suu Kyi. We are working together,” he told the BBC.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Monday, Win Htain, an elected MP and senior member of Suu Ky’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), said, “We have to welcome his [Thein Sein’s] statement if that is what he really meant.”

However, he said, “A constitutional amendment must be made ahead of the election in 2015. Suu Kyi cannot become president in accordance with the current Constitution.”

The 2008 Constitution disqualifies any Burmese national whose family member or members are foreign citizens or who hold foreign citizenship from running for president or vice-president.

Under Chapter III, Article 59 (f) states: The President and Vice-Presidents “shall he himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign government or citizen of a foreign country.”

Pe Than, a Lower House MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, told The Irrawaddy that, in his opinion, Suu Kyi could not be president because her family members are foreigners. He said the Constitution must be amended first.

Suu Kyi married Michael Aris, a British scholar, in 1971 and gave birth to her eldest son, Alexander, the following year in London. Her younger son, Kim Aris, was born in 1977. Both of her sons have UK citizenship.

Thein Sein told the BBC program that military representatives will continue to play a central role in Burmese politics as they will continue to retain 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, a provision that is also enshrined in the existing Constitution.

Several observers likened Suu Kyi’s situation with the case of Myint Swe, the chief minister of Rangoon Division. On July 10, Myint Swe was nominated for vice-president. However, he was later disqualified in accordance with the constitution after it surfaced that one of his children lives in Australia and has become an Australian citizen.