Rangoon protestors show support for constitutional reform

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Burma’s former capital Rangoon on Sunday, calling for an amendment to the military-drafted constitution that would allow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to become eligible to run for president.

The rally was organised by former student activist leaders of the 1988 pro-democracy movement.

Under the current constitution, the opposition leader is ineligible for the top post because she had been married to a foreigner and her two sons are British citizens.

The charter was drafted and adopted under the stewardship of Burma’s previous junta government, which paved the way to the first general election in 2010 after decades of military dictatorship.

Suu Kyi has publicly suggested that constitutional charter in question was deliberately designed to bar her from the presidency.

Several well-known Burmese activists took part in the demonstration, including parliamentarians, artists and former political activists.

“All we need is unity. Unity among civil societies, artists and artisans, prominent public figures, ordinary people, monks and so on. If we all participate when it’s necessary, not only the constitution but any law can be amended,” said Min Ko Naing, a former student leader who took part in the pro-democracy movement in 1988.

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An article of section 59(f) in the constitution says that anyone whose spouse or children owes allegiance to a foreign power cannot become president or vice president.

Suu Kyi was married to the late British scholar Michael Aris, and her two sons are foreign citizens.

Critics complain that many other provisions are also undemocratic.

“All necessary sections should be amended so that our country can move forward smoothly. Not only Section 59(f), but also all other sections should be amended,” said Khaing Muang Yee, a parliament member who took part in the rally.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party announced last weekend that it would contest the 2015 general election, whether or not the constitution is amended to allow for her nomination.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 election, but successfully contested by-elections in 2012 after electoral reforms were implemented, with Suu Kyi winning a seat in the lower house.

The opposition party expects to do well enough in the 2015 polls to offer its own presidential candidate, and Suu Kyi has expressed an interest in running.

Burmese president Thein Sein said in a monthly-televised address to the nation on 2 January that he supports amending the constitution to allow Suu Kyi to be eligible to lead the country. The president stated his hope that changing the constitution could help national reconciliation.

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