Several dozen activists rallied peacefully in Myanmar’s biggest city on Friday to call for changing the Burmese Constitution to allow pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to serve as president.
The small demonstration in Yangon came as demands have grown louder among politicians and lawmakers for amending the constitution.
The charter was drafted and adopted under the stewardship of Myanmar’s previous military government to ensure that the military retains a major voice in administering the country. The military’s appointed seats constitute a quarter of the total in Parliament.
An article in the Burmese Constitution says anyone whose spouse or children owes allegiance to a foreign power cannot become president or vice president. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to the late British academic Michael Aris, and her two sons are foreign citizens. Critics complain that many other provisions are also undemocratic.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party announced last weekend that it would contest the 2015 general election. It boycotted the 2010 election, but successfully contested by-elections in 2012 after electoral reforms were implemented, with Aung San Suu Kyi winning a seat in the lower house.
“In every country, wherever it is, all the citizens have the right to elect their president, the ministers and the prime minister as they want because this is for the good of the country,” said the organizer of Friday’s protest, Zaw Win. “But as there are lots of restrictions, we have to come out onto the streets to protest to say that these articles in the Constitution are not appropriate for the country.” Myanmar is a republic where the president is chosen by the Burmese parliament rather than directly elected. The NLD expects to do well enough in the 2015 polls to offer its own presidential candidate, and Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed an interest in running.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party has recently stepped up its calls for constitutional amendments to meet democratic norms. In a speech broadcast on radio on Thursday, Burmese President Thein Sein said he supports amending the constitution, and his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has suggested changing the clause that bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
Several other provisions are also under scrutiny for revision, and some proposed changes would increase self-government in regions of the country dominated by ethnic minorities.
For Western nations that have encouraged Thein Sein’s democratic transition, amendment of the Burmese Constitution is crucial to lending credibility to the 2015 elections.