Myanmar’s parliament keeps Aung San Suu Kyi away from the presidential election
by Francis Khoo Thwe
With their veto power intact, the military still keep the main opposition leader out of the run for the presidency. Only 388 lawmakers out of 664 voted in favour of changing the constitution, far short of the 75 per cent threshold. For Catholic activist, reforms have stalled – an outcome that does not surprise the director of the Democratic Voice of Burma.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – In a joint session in the capital Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s bicameral parliament failed to adopt a motion to change the constitution and allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president.

The outcome of the vote means that Myanmar’s military will maintain a veto power on changes to the country’s reform process. For the main opposition leader, this means she has little hope to run for the country’s highest office at the end of this year.

To become president, she needs an amendment to the Constitution that the military were hardly to concede. Although, the proposed constitution amendment was approved by a majority of lawmakers, it failed to reach the 75 per cent threshold needed to pass.

Myanmar’s current parliament was elected under the 2008 constitution. The latter remains controversial for both its content – 25 per cent of seats reserved for the military with 75 elected by the people – and for the way it was adopted, under a state of emergency caused by Cyclone Nargis.

The main bone of contention is Art 59, which was designed specifically to keep Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency, since it bans Myanmar nationals from that office if he or she has children who are also foreign nationals. Suu Kyi’s late husband and therefore her children are British citizens.

After three days of deliberation, parliament voted on the motion to drop article 59. At 75 per cent, the latter needed 498 votes out of 664. In the end, only 388 out of just over 600 lawmakers voted in favour.

In recent months, the leader of the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s main opposition party and likely winner in the upcoming fall election, had said that only genuinely democratic constitutional reform would show that Myanmar was serious about change.

A leading expert on Myanmar, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) East Asia team leader Benedict Rogers talked to AsiaNews about today's vote. For him, it is not surprising that they took a “step backward”.

“For more than a year,” reforms have stalled and today’s vote could end them for good, said the activist. Although some positive changes have occurred in country in the past four years, “no fundamental political and constitutional changes” have been achieved.

This is why upcoming elections will not be truly fair even if they are somewhat competitive. For him, the country’s transition has not been “from dictatorship to democracy," but from harsh military rule to a subtler, more “sophisticated form of authoritarianism”.

Aye Chan Naing, director of the dissident Democratic Voice of Burma media group, agrees. He is also not surprised by the turn of events. “It was clear from the beginning that [the military] did not want her to become president. Why would they change their mind now?”