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Myanmar speaker weighs options

May 2, 2015

WASHINGTON — The speaker of Myanmar's parliament says he would be willing to serve as president if nominated, and to cooperate with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or anyone working in the interests of the country.

Shwe Mann, who is also the chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), also said that his party had "aspirations" to change the military-dominated constitution, but that time was running short ahead of November general elections.

He made the comments in a meeting with a think-tank in Washington, where he has also been holding talks with US congressional leaders.

The USDP is made up largely of former military officers and was created from a social movement set up by the former junta.

Asked if he would run as president if nominated, Shwe Mann replied: "Of course, if the USDP nominated me as a presidential candidate, I would be happy to accept."

Asked if he would be willing to enter a coalition with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred under the current constitution from standing as president because she was married to a foreigner, he said they were “very good friends with each other. At the same time we could be very good competitors”.

“You are raising the question whether there is the possibility of forming a coalition government after the elections. Of course for the interests of the country and the people, I am ready to cooperate with [her] today, tomorrow and in the future,” he said, speaking through a translator.

He said he would cooperate with any party or individual that cared about the people and the country.

Asked about the possibility of amending Myanmar's constitution before the polls, Shwe Mann said some amendments were more difficult to change than others, including a provision that 25% of parliamentary seats be reserved for the military. That could require a referendum to approve.

Shwe Mann drew criticism in a question from Amnesty International representative T Kumar, for calling Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority "Bengalis", rather than Rohingya.

Human rights groups say the Rohingya in the western Rakhine state — many of whom have been displaced by deadly clashes with Buddhists and whose citizenship status is in dispute — have been subjected to human rights violations.

Shwe Mann said the group had support from some parliamentary representatives and there was an intention to form a parliamentary committee on fundamental rights and democracy "principles that every country has to honour".

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