Myanmar's Suu Kyi refuses to rule out election boycott

NAYPYIDAW (AFP) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday refused to rule out a boycott of looming elections as she cast doubt over the likelihood of key changes to a charter that bans her from running for president.

Her country is bracing for elections later this year seen as a vital test of democratic reforms in a nation that was until recently straitjacketed by decades of junta rule.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party wants to amend constitutional clauses that block their leader from the presidency and hands a crucial say over changes to the charter to the military, which holds a quarter of parliamentary seats.

The NLD is expected to hoover up votes in November's election, the first countrywide poll that the party will have contested in 25 years.

But Suu Kyi failed to offer reassurances her party would participate in the polls, as the NLD struggles to amend the charter to allow her to take the top job.

"We are not closing off any options. No one can know what will happen, so we have to calculate for every possibility," she told reporters in the capital Naypyidaw.

A provision in the current junta-era constitution bars those with a foreign spouse or children from the presidency.

The 69-year-old's two sons are British, as was her late husband and Suu Kyi believes the rule was crafted specifically to block her pathway to the top office.

She has received support, including from US president Barack Obama, for her move to change the constitution.

But observers say she has accepted that it is unlikely she will be able to become president immediately after elections, which are slated for November.

The NLD's second constitutional sticking point is the clause giving the army 25 percent of seats in parliament - a power bloc that hands it an effective veto on charter amendments.

"I cannot say when they will be amended, I cannot even say whether they will be amended this year," Suu Kyi said.

Last year the NLD gained five million signatures - around 10 percent of the population - in support of its bid to end the army's effective veto.

But analysts say the military is unlikely to relinquish its seats or the political leverage they bring as Myanmar edges towards democracy.

Suu Kyi said the NLD has proposed a gradual reduction in military lawmakers, but added "if we are going to accept the presence of military representatives in the legislature forever then that's not democracy." The Nobel Laureate will meet president Thein Sein, powerful parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and the army chief on Friday for rare 'six party' talks likely to address the tussle over amending the constitution.

They will be joined by representatives from ethnic groups with Thein Sein pressing for a binding nationwide ceasefire with the country's myriad rebel groups.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma and ruled by the British until 1948, was plunged into isolation by a military regime that seized power in 1962.

It has won praise for widespread economic and political reforms since it emerged from outright military rule in 2011, also drawing an influx of foreign investors to its untapped markets.

But there are growing concerns reforms are backsliding in certain areas, including human rights and press freedom.