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Myanmar Upholds Ban on Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming President

The Nobel Peace Prize winner is banned from running for the presidency because her sons hold UK passports, though her party is expected to gain heavy support at Myanmar's next election.
June 25, 2015, 12:18pm
Photo by Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not become Myanmar's president this year, after the country's parliament today rejected constitutional amendments which would allow her to run, while ensuring that the military's veto power remains intact.

The decision ended a three-day debate on proposed changes to the 2008 constitution, which bars Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi from seeking the presidency because her sons hold British passports, and gives the military an effective veto over constitutional amendments.

Changes to both of those clauses were rejected in the vote.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is still expected to see heavy gains against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in an election likely to take place by November.

Reacting to the news, Suu Kyi said: "I am not surprised with the result. Those who didn't vote for the change have shown they are against change."

Related: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Violent Politics of Peace

The NLD won the last free general election in 1990, but the then-ruling military junta ignored the results and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest and detention for 15 years.

The nation's transition from a half-century of brutal military rule to a nominally civilian government in 2011 was first marked by fast-moving developments. The release of Suu Kyi and hundreds of other political prisoners was a catalyst for the West to end years of diplomatic isolation of Myanmar and roll back sanctions.

But four years after President Thein Sein took office, the military has refused to loosen its grip on parliament or amend the junta-era constitution, which ensures the military's continuing influence in government. It gives the military a mandatory 25 percent of parliamentary seats, handing it veto power over any change in the constitution, which requires greater than 75 percent approval, followed by a nationwide referendum.

Related: Obama Hits Out at Myanmar Ban on Aung San Suu Kyi's Presidential Bid

Thursday's vote rejected a proposal to trim the share of votes required to amend the constitution from over 75 percent to 70 percent, a change that would essentially have removed the veto power.

Many viewed the proposed amendment, which could have paved the way for more constitutional change, as key to Suu Kyi's chances for gaining eligibility for the presidency.

The parliament also rejected amending a clause that bars anyone whose spouse or children are loyal to foreign countries from becoming president or vice president. Suu Kyi's two sons are British citizens, as was her late husband. The proposed amendment would not have struck through the clause entirely, just dropped the reference to foreign spouses as an obstacle to candidacy.

On a visit to Myanmar in November, US President Barack Obama spoke out against the ban, saying that certain parts of the country's constitution "objectively don't make much sense."

"For example," Obama added, "I don't understand a provision that would bar someone from running for president because of who their children are."

Related: Dalai Lama Says Myanmar's Opposition Leader Can Help Save the Rohingya People

The Associated Press contributed to this report.