YANGON, Myanmar – A parliamentary committee has voted against changing a clause in Myanmar’s Constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, in a setback for her hopes of leading the Southeast Asian country.
The clause bars anyone whose spouse or children are loyal to foreign countries from becoming president or vice president. Suu Kyi’s late husband and her two sons are British citizens.
If the recommendation is endorsed by the full parliament, it is likely to have a significant effect on the next general election in 2015.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party is expected to mount a strong challenge, with a good possibility of winning, but without Suu Kyi as a prospective president, its backers may flag in their support.
Twenty-six of the 31 members of the committee tasked with recommending changes voted against amending the clause. The decision by the committee last week was not publicized, but a member who did not want to be identified because he is not supposed to speak to the media confirmed the vote.
A final decision is subject to a vote of the full parliament. But a change appears unlikely, since the committee members who rejected the amendment are lawmakers from the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party and the military, which hold an overwhelming majority of the legislative seats. It’s unclear when parliament will take action on the recommendation.
Suu Kyi has said that the current constitution needs to be amended to meet democratic norms and to make elections free and fair. Her party has been holding rallies to gain public support and persusade the military and the government to amend the constitution.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for her party, said it was more concerned with amending the clauses in the constitution that govern how changes can be made. If that can be done, he said, it will not be impossible to change other clauses.
The 2008 constitution was drawn up by the previous military regime to ensure its continuing influence in government. It gives the military a mandatory 25 percent of parliamentary seats, handing it veto power over any change in the constitution, which requires greater than 75 percent approval, followed by a nationwide referendum.
Suu Kyi has repeatedly called on President Thein Sein and military commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing for discussions on amending the constitution, but neither so far has agreed to talk. Parliament speaker Thura Shwe Mann, who is also from the pro-military faction and harbors presidential ambitions, said changes in the constitution must be completed six months before the 2015 polls.
Since coming to office in 2011, Thein Sein has instituted a series of political and economic changes after almost five decades of repressive army rule.
Suu Kyi’s party rejoined the electoral process after decades of government repression, and won 43 of 44 seats it contested in by-elections in 2012.