Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to depart France for home on Wednesday, having canvased international support for her agenda of constitutional change in Burma. The weeklong trip included Germany and France, and was her third visit to Europe since 2012.
Meeting the French press on Monday, Suu Kyi reminded international onlookers that “Burma is not yet a democracy”. Standing alongside French President François Hollande, Suu Kyi called on France and the EU to help Burma to “move forward in a process that will ensure democratic values and democratic rights.”
That process, Suu Kyi affirmed, involves national reconciliation and a curtailing of military influence in politics, both to be achieved via constitutional reform.
In that quest she found an ally in President Hollande, as she did in Chancellor Angela Merkel whom Suu Kyi met on the German leg of her tour.
“We are aware of the obstacles and difficulties which exist,” Hollande explained as he reiterated France’s support for Suu Kyi as the opposition leader continues her agenda of change.
Merkel too offered her support for ongoing democratic reform in Burma. Speaking to media before a closed-doors meeting in Berlin last Thursday, Merkel said the pair would be discussing “how we on the German side can help to be actively supportive of these developments”.
Friday saw Suu Kyi presented with the Willy Brandt Prize for leadership in democracy and human rights. The honour follows Suu Kyi’s 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, which she collected in 2012 on her first trip to Europe after being freed from house arrest the year before. Suu Kyi was also the 1990 recipient of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, which she collected on a 2013 tour.
“The special place of the military is written into our Constitution,” Suu Kyi explained to an audience gathered in Berlin to witness her acceptance of the Willy Brandt Prize.
“It is not a democratic [Constitution]” Suu Kyi told the crowd, “And the challenge we face today is to change the Constitution to make sure that our country will truly enjoy the rights and values of democracy.”
The Burmese Constitution, adopted in 2008, ensures that the military provides its own mandate, as opposed to being the subject of a civilian portfolio. Article 232 states that, “the Commander-in-Chief will appoint the Ministers for Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs.” Further to this, the military is assured the balance of power in both houses of parliament, as the Constitution provides for 25 percent of seats in each house to be appointed to the armed forces.
This stands as a personal barrier to Suu Kyi in her stated ambition to be Burma’s next president. Article 59(f) bars Suu Kyi from the presidency, as her late husband, Michael Aris, was a British citizen. 75 percent of parliament must approve a change to that law, as is dictated by the 2008 Constitution. Therefore a motion to abolish the article would almost certainly require military acquiescence.
Support from France and Germany may prove to be valuable munitions is Suu Kyi’s own armoury, as she takes on military hardliners in her battle for reform. Earlier this month, Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing used the Armed Forces Day parade as an opportunity to underline the inviolable foundation that the 2008 Constitution provides for the future of a peaceful Burma.
Suu Kyi underscored the magnitude of her task in Germany on Friday. “We are at a most sensitive, most dangerous time in the path of our evolution, Suu Kyi told her Berlin audience. “What we are trying to do in Burma is to … establish the foundation of a truly democratic culture, it is not easy, after half a century of dictatorship to establish such a foundation.”