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Suu Kyi Questions Myanmar Government’s Commitment to Democracy

French Foreign affairs minister Laurent Fabius (R) and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speak at a press conference in Paris, April 15, 2014. (Photo: AFP)

By Joshua Lipes
April 17, 2014

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has criticized President Thein Sein’s administration for not pushing for constitutional reform, saying her party was “greatly concerned” by the government’s lack of action on bringing about charter changes ahead of key 2015 elections.

Winding down a visit to France, the head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said Tuesday that while her party has sought to cooperate with the ruling party on matters it believes will benefit Myanmar, “there are many things [that the government does] with which we disagree quite strongly.”

“The fact that the president shows no intention of supporting amendments to the constitution is a matter of great concern to us,” Suu Kyi said, speaking in Paris, alongside French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as she wrapped up a week-long European trip that also included a stop in Germany.

“If he is genuine about democratic reform, he must be in favor of amendments to a constitution which institutes military rule as part of the political life of the country,” the Nobel laureate said.

“You cannot claim that a constitution which gives the military a particular position—a special and the strongest position—in the political life of a nation is democratic.”

Thein Sein said last month that any move to revamp the constitution should be done in a “careful and delicate” manner.

Suu Kyi said that while the issue of the military’s role in politics is one priority, the NLD is not concerned with particular sections of the country’s junta-drafted 2008 charter, so much as “the concept of the constitution as a democratic document.”

“It is far from being a democratic document,” she said.

“Any government that is serious about democratization must and should support amendments to this constitution.”

Myanmar’s constitution does not provide for civilian oversight of the country’s military and ensures the armed forces 25 percent of seats in both houses of parliament.

Together, the military and Thein Sein’s military-backed ruling United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) control more than 80 percent of parliament, eclipsing the 75 percent support required for a constitutional amendment in the legislature.

Suu Kyi was on her third trip to Europe since 2012, during which she also met with French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, working to drum up EU support for constitutional reform in her country.

Road to democracy

After talks on Tuesday, Hollande pledged France’s assistance to Myanmar to ensure the country’s transition to democracy.

“France stands with the [Myanmar] people as the promised reforms come into effect,” Radio France Internationale quoted the president as saying.

“We've lifted sanctions over the course of these recent years and we've made efforts to integrate Myanmar in economic and commercial procedures. But we are also attentive and concerned each time a barrier is placed on the road to democracy.”

Speaking in Berlin, where she received the Willy Brandt Award last week, Suu Kyi had warned that Myanmar “is not yet a democracy,” despite a series of reforms welcomed by the international community, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Tuesday in Paris, she reiterated those claims, calling the course of democracy in her country “an ongoing one.”

“That is to say [the NLD has] by no means completed what we have been trying to do for the last 30 years,” said Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly two decades under house arrest during the previous military junta rule.

In addition to the push for constitutional reform, Suu Kyi also highlighted Myanmar’s need to overcome “longstanding ethnic suspicions and lack of confidence between different communities” as obstacles to democratic change, saying the government needs to play the “major role” in resolving the problems.

2015 elections

Suu Kyi warned that the way the government addresses these problems will influence the outcome of elections planned for next year, the second since the landmark 2010 polls which led to the junta relinquishing power to Thein Sein’s quasi-military government after nearly five decades of rule.

“In many democratic transitions it’s not the first elections that count so much as the second elections … A lot of people accept, generally, that perhaps the first elections are flawed to a certain extent. And certainly in my country they were extremely flawed,” she said.

“Now we are in the run up to the second elections, but the elections do not stand by themselves in 2015. Whatever happens in 2015 will be decided very much by what happens this year in 2014.”

Aung San Suu Kyi questioned whether Thein Sein’s government was committed to tackling the nation’s problems, which she said were preventing a full transition to democracy and needed resolution.

“Not in 2015, but before 2015, so that the process of change in our country might [head] in the right direction,” she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi has said that she wants to contest next year’s elections, but a clause in the constitution currently bars her from making a bid for the presidency in 2015 because her sons are foreign citizens.

In Berlin, she warned that Myanmar's elections chief wants party leaders like her confined to campaigning in their own constituencies in 2015.

In seeking support from abroad for her country’s political transition, she urged the international community not to simply judge Myanmar’s reform process at face value, but to “go below the surface … that you may be able to give us support in our efforts to make our country, once again, the peaceful and united state that we had been at one time."

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