Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said boycotting an upcoming historic election in Myanmar was an “option” if a military-drafted constitution that bars her from becoming president remains unchanged.
In an interview on Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize winner told reporters that her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party was “ready to govern,” but that Burmese President Thein Sein was insincere about reform and might try to postpone the election.
She also said US praise for Myanmar’s semi-civilian government — which took power in 2011 after nearly 50 years of brutal military rule — had made it “complacent” about reform.
While scathing about what she called Thein Sein’s “hardline regime,” Aung San Suu Kyi emphasized what she described as the need to reconcile with the military that detained her for 15 years until her release from house arrest in 2010.
“We do not think that boycotting the election is the best choice,” Aung San Suu Kyi said when asked whether her party would run with the constitution unchanged. “However, we are not ruling it out altogether. We are leaving our options open.”
However, she accented the importance of general election set for November, describing it as “the real test of whether we are on the route to democracy or not.”
The NLD won Myanmar’s last real election in 1990 by a landslide, but the military nullified the result.
The party boycotted the 2010 poll, widely regarded as rigged, which installed Thein Sein, a former general and junta stalwart.
His government launched a series of political and economic reforms. Many people now feel the reform process has stalled, and the military — its immense power largely unchecked — again casts a shadow over the voting.
Aung San Suu Kyi said Thein Sein was “sincere” about reform during their first meeting in 2011. Now, he is not.
“Because if he had been sincere about reform, then we would be much further ahead than we are,” she said, speaking in a meeting room in Myanmar’s sprawling parliamentary complex in the capital, Naypyidaw.
She expressed concern that Thein Sein might use peace talks with ethnic rebels as a pretext to delay the election.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who turns 70 in June, and 42 other NLD members entered parliament after a 2012 by-election. Since then, Aung San Suu Kyi has lent her hard-won democratic credentials to a questionable government that has given little in return, critics have said.
However, many more in this large, poor and ethnically diverse nation still see Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar’s best hope. Reforms have raised expectations among its 53 million population, but left most people’s lives unimproved.
The constitution drafted by the former junta reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military delegates, which allows them to veto any constitutional change.
It also bars presidential candidates with a foreign spouse or child. Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband and two sons are British.
She said Myanmar’s presidency remains within her reach.
“Why not?” she asked. “Constitutions are not permanent.”
However, she said changing it would depend upon a government she repeatedly described as a “regime” of hardliners.
“They are not interested in negotiations or in amending the constitution or taking seriously the will of the people... You could hardly say they are moderates.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said she questioned US praise of Myanmar’s government in the hopes of encouraging further reforms.
“I would ask whether it actually encourages them to do more or it simply makes them more complacent,” she said. “The US and the West in general are too optimistic and a bit of healthy skepticism would help everybody a great deal.”
A US official told reporters in November last year that Washington had decided not to press for changes to Myanmar’s constitution.
However, Aung San Suu Kyi said she did not feel abandoned by the US and had “good friends” there.
Aung San Suu Kyi called mending relations with the military an “absolute necessity.”
“We cannot have a country that is split between the military and the rest of the people,” she said.
In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi upset many supporters by saying that she had a “soft spot” for the military. It was founded by her father Aung San, Myanmar’s independence hero, whose portrait hung on the wall behind her.
Now, she rejects criticism that she had been outmaneuvered by Myanmar’s generals.
“We have always known that they would not give up their privileges easily,” she said. “There is a time when we have to stand up for our principles and there is a time when one of the principles should be national reconciliation rather than digging up the past.”
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