Suu Kyi Needs a Band of ‘Bold Soldiers’

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 7 June 2013

Aung San Suu Kyi wants to be president. She says it’s not impossible, and that’s true, but it will certainly be an uphill battle.

The democracy icon publicly confirmed her desire this week. “I want to run for president,” she said on Thursday at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Naypyidaw, Burma’s administrative capital.

“It’s natural that a leader of a political party says he or she is ready to lead the country and the government,” she said.

But the 67-year-old Nobel Peace laureate will never be president without approval from the ex-military leaders who now sit in Parliament, as well as the current military lawmakers who are guaranteed 25 percent of Parliament seats.

That will be no easy task. As the well-known elected lawmaker Thein Nyunt told The Irrawaddy this week, “The question is, how can she overcome the mountain of difficulties that lies ahead?”

Thein Nyunt, chairman of the New National Democracy Party, said members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had proposed a committee to review the undemocratic 2008 Constitution during the upcoming session of Parliament, which is set to resume later this month. But, he added, “I don’t want people to expect a lot out of it.”

The Constitution is a major concern for Suu Ky because it lays out the requirements for presidential bidders—and, as it currently stands, bans her from the job. According to Article 59, the democracy icon cannot seek a presidential nomination because her late husband was British and her children hold foreign citizenship.

More than 75 percent of the lawmakers must agree to amend any article in the Constitution. After that, a referendum is required, with more than half of voters supporting the amendment.

“Without overcoming that huge hurdle, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s desire to become president will never happen in reality,” Thein Nyunt said, referring to the opposition leader with a title of respect.

Suu Kyi was always a problem for the former military regime, which put her under house arrest for 15 years. Since her release in 2010, it is believed that current and former military leaders in government and Parliament continue to see her as a threat to their power.

But politics is personal, and there are some who feel differently. Some ex-military leaders, including Shwe Mann, speaker of Parliament’s lower house, have managed to find common ground with Suu Kyi since she started attending parliamentary sessions in Naypyidaw last year.

Shwe Mann has reportedly met frequently with the opposition leader to discuss many issues, including amendments to the Constitution. It is not known how open these discussions have been or whether they have reached any informal agreements, according to Thein Nyunt.

The alliance with Shwe Mann is a possible risk for Suu Kyi’s reputation, as the house speaker is seen as less reputable than President Thein Sein in the eyes of the Burmese public. But the opposition leader has likely calculated that risk.

Suu Kyi is acutely aware of the hurdles to her presidential bid which Thein Nyunt mentioned. Speaking this week at the WEF, in front of Shwe Mann, she said the 2008 Constitution was among the world’s most difficult constitutions to amend.

And she understands that without collaboration from the military, and support from the 25 percent of military-appointed lawmakers, her goal will remain out of reach. To secure the necessary amendment, she said, “at least one bold soldier needs to stand out.”