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Myanmar house chief rules out 2015 charter change

The Associated Press 

YANGON, Myanmar —

Myanmar’s influential parliament speaker said Tuesday that any changes to the military-drafted constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president will not take effect before next year’s election.

Shwe Mann told reporters in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the current parliament will review constitution amendment suggestions and hold a referendum in May to change some clauses, but that an amended charter would come into force only after the new parliament elected in 2015 is seated.

Confusion greeted his remarks, which left open the question of whether the clause affecting Suu Kyi might be changed.

Uncertainty over whether Suu Kyi can hold the presidency may harm her National League for Democracy’s election prospects. It was unclear whether Shwe Mann was suggesting that the clause barring Suu Kyi would not be passed, or whether he was holding out the prospect that it might be passed, but take effect only after the next parliament is seated — technically leaving open the prospect that she could become president.

Sandar Min, a lower house lawmaker from Suu Kyi’s party, said the NLD did not have any immediate reaction because Shwe Mann’s comments were “very unclear.”

“We don’t really understand what the speaker really meant,” she said. “It is very confusing and hard to understand what U Shwe Mann really means.”

Win Oo, a lawmaker from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, said that his colleague’s remark’s “were a little too brief, confusing a lot of people,” so he consequently spent much of the day explaining that Shwe Mann had not ruled out constitutional changes.

However, initial efforts to amend the constitution have fallen short.

The charter is widely viewed as undemocratic for allotting the military 25 percent of parliament’s seats along with other special political powers, among other matters.

Shwe Mann and Suu Kyi have both declared their interest in becoming president. Shwe Mann, like current President Thein Sein, is a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party and served with the junta that repressively ruled Myanmar for five decades. Thein Sein indicated last year that he does not intend to run for a second term.

President Barack Obama, in telephone conversations with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi before visiting Myanmar last week, underscored the need for a credible and inclusive process for holding next year’s elections, according to the White House.

The clause affecting Suu Kyi 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.

Myanmar installed an elected though army-dominated government in 2011. Thein Sein won praise — and the lifting of punitive sanctions by the U.S. and others — for initiating reforms, but critics say the transition toward democracy has stalled.

It is widely believed that Suu Kyi’s party stands a good chance of topping next year’s polls. But a parliamentary committee in June voted against changing the foreign loyalties clause.

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