Suu Kyi party seeks to scrap contentious Myanmar charter clause

AFP| Last Updated: Nov 13, 2014, 19:05 PM IST

Myanmar`s opposition called Thursday on parliament to ditch parts of the junta-era constitution that bars its leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, as lawmakers began high-stakes debates on charter reform.

Legislators are mulling whether to change aspects of the country`s controversial charter, which was drawn up by the former ruling generals and reserves a quarter of the parliament for unelected soldiers.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi`s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to make big gains at crucial elections in October or November next year.

But she is currently banned from taking the presidency because of a constitutional clause that omits those with foreign spouses or children. Her two sons and late husband are British.

Speaking to parliament on the first day of open debate on the subject, which coincided with a visit by United States President Barack Obama to the fast-changing former pariah state, NLD spokesman Win Myint called for the clause, 59F, to be scrapped. 

"How can there be a fair election if the competitors are ensnared?" he said.

A special parliamentary committee tasked with making recommendations to amend the 2008 constitution has put forward a number of sections for debate, including 59F and the clause reserving 25 percent of seats for the military.

Around a dozen MPs kicked off the debate on Thursday and dozens more are expected to have their say on the charter in the coming days.

More than 75 percent of lawmakers are required to change the constitution, however, meaning the military bloc effectively has the final say.

Myanmar`s quasi-civilian government has earned international plaudits for reforms that began in 2011 and have seen hundreds of political prisoners freed, censorship scrapped and opened the country to a flood of investment.

But there are growing concerns that the country`s once-vibrant reforms have ground to a halt, with Obama this week warning that some were even "backsliding".

Suu Kyi, 69, who spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule, has publicly announced her desire to be president -- a role selected by parliament after the election.

Last week she said she objected to the clause "because it is intended to keep one particular citizen out of the presidency... a constitution should not be written with one person in mind".

Her party this year gained the signatures of around five million people, 10 percent of the population on a petition to end the army`s veto on amending the charter.