Parliament deals a blow to Suu Kyi's presidency hopes

Ms Suu Kyi registering before attending a Parliament session yesterday. She urged people not to "lose hope" after the failure to amend the Constitution, saying the opposition would not "back down" from elections.
Ms Suu Kyi registering before attending a Parliament session yesterday. She urged people not to "lose hope" after the failure to amend the Constitution, saying the opposition would not "back down" from elections.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Bill to curb military's political powers voted down

NAYPYIDAW (Myanmar) - Myanmar's Parliament yesterday dealt a decisive blow to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's hopes of amending the junta- era Constitution that bars her from the presidency ahead of landmark elections, voting down a Bill that would have ended the military's effective veto on charter change.

The vote, held after three days of energetic debate between uniformed soldiers and elected MPs, saw Parliament shoot down a draft amendment that would have chipped away at the military's political stranglehold.

Myanmar's Parliament continues to be dominated by the army and former generals despite reforms since the end of outright junta rule in 2011.

Observers say the military is extremely reluctant to allow any further reduction to its powers.

The 436 amendment Bill was "not enacted", parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann told the legislature, after the 388 votes in favour of change fell below the threshold of 75 per cent of all lawmakers needed for it to pass.

The result virtually extinguishes Ms Suu Kyi's chances of running for the presidency at this stage because of a provision excluding those with foreign children from the top office. Her sons are British.

Speaking directly after the result, Ms Suu Kyi urged Myanmar's people not to "lose hope" after the failure to amend any major part of the Constitution. Striking a note of defiance, she vowed that the opposition would not "back down" from elections slated for October or November.

The polls are likely to see her National League for Democracy (NLD) party hoover up seats, if the election - seen as a crucial test of the country's democratic transition - is free and fair.

The clause blocking Ms Suu Kyi's pathway to the presidency was not up for debate in the draft Bills put before Parliament yesterday.

But debate was dominated by proposals to change Clause 436, which demands that 75 per cent of parliamentarians must vote for major constitutional changes, ensuring that unelected soldiers have the final say.

Despite the expectation that the Bill would not pass, the legislature fell into silence as the results were announced, with several other proposed amendments also voted down.

Several senior MPs for the NLD, which garnered five million signatures in a petition on changing Clause 436 last year, appeared visibly upset.

Military MPs have lined up to argue against the proposal to reduce the voting threshold on constitutional amendment to 70 per cent, with analysts saying they fear reducing their own powers.

Brigadier-General Tin San Naing told reporters earlier yesterday that the proposed change to Clause 436 was "not suitable" because "our democracy is still in a nascent stage".

Observers say that the army is deeply wedded to its perceived role as the protector of the Myanmar Constitution, which was drawn up under a former military regime that suppressed all dissent and kept Ms Suu Kyi under lock and key for some 15 years.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'Parliament deals a blow to Suu Kyi's presidency hopes'. Print Edition | Subscribe