March 31, 2008 / 10:25 AM / 12 years ago

Proposed Myanmar charter bars Suu Kyi from office

YANGON (Reuters) - Detained Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not be allowed to stand for election in army-ruled Myanmar because she was once married to a foreigner, its proposed new constitution says.

U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari (R) meets Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon in this handout released November 8, 2007. REUTERS/UNIC Yangon/Handout

A copy of the charter obtained by Reuters on Monday confirmed that a “person who is entitled to rights and privileges of a foreign government, or a citizen of a foreign country” cannot run for office.

Suu Kyi, 62, was married to British academic Michael Aris from 1972 until his death in 1999, and as such was entitled to hold a British passport.

However, rather than being an invention of the former Burma’s military junta to keep their nemesis at bay, the clause has simply been copied across from Myanmar’s two previous constitutions of 1947 and 1974, experts said.

The proposed charter, a key step in the generals seven-point “roadmap to democracy”, goes to a referendum some time in May and has left opponents of the junta in a quandary, unsure whether to vote “Yes” or “No”.

Integral to the “discipline-flourishing democracy” advocated by the generals is a proviso that 25 percent of seats in parliament are reserved for the military.

The commander-in-chief of the armed forces will also be the most powerful person in the country, with the right to suspend the constitution at will.

However, the charter also enshrines many rights that have been absent for nearly the last two decades.

Under the proposed charter, the southeast Asian nation’s 53 million people will be allowed to form political parties and unions and freedom of the press and religion will be protected.

Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups, many of whom have waged years of guerrilla war since independence from Britain in 1948, will also be accorded the specific right to promote their own languages and cultures.

While some people are refusing to approve any constitution spawned by a reviled military regime, others say it is better to have a bad constitution than none at all.

“We can’t expect it perfect at the initial state and we should not delay till it is perfect,” one lawyer who asked not to be identified said. “There will be freedom of expression, press, association, procession and so on that we haven’t got now.”

Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said last week the charter would be open to incremental change after multi-party elections slated for 2010.

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Michael Battye and Alex Richardson

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