March 15, 2013 / 10:35 AM / 7 years ago

Myanmar parliament to review controversial constitution

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s parliament took the first step on Friday towards the possible amendment of the constitution which was drafted under a military regime and bars Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi explains to villagers why she supports a copper mine project in Sarlingyi township March 13, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The constitution, ratified after a rigged 2008 referendum and widely seen as undemocratic, disqualifies presidential and vice-presidential candidates whose spouses or children are citizens of a foreign country. Suu Kyi’s late husband, academic Michael Aris, was British, as are their two grown-up sons.

The constitution also reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military personnel chosen by the armed forces chief.

The review was proposed by Aye Myint and Thein Zaw, both former generals and senior members of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said Ohn Kyaing, a member of Suu Kyi’s party.

Military delegates also voted in favor of the proposal.

“They seem to have realized that it’s essential to amend the present constitution for the country to build genuine democracy,” Ohn Kyaing said.

The junta stepped aside in March 2011, when President Thein Sein took office after the USDP swept a 2010 general election. He has opened up the country and started to modernize the economy.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) boycotted the general election but she and 42 colleagues won by-elections in April last year to take seats in parliament. She has made amending the constitution a priority.

The review could lead to changes that would make it possible for Suu Kyi to become president after a 2015 general election that the NLD is expected to win. It might also decide the future role and political scope of the military.

A review committee would include members of many political parties and outside experts, a senior parliamentary official said.

A military lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, welcomed amendments that might remove obstacles for a Suu Kyi presidency.

“Personally, I’m sure she will make a capable leader,” he said.

Writing by Paul Carsten and Andrew R.C. Marshall; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel

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