YANGON: Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Saturday her party would shortly decide whether to contest crucial elections, as it battles to change the constitution barring her from the presidency.
Speaking to senior National League for Democracy (NLD) members at the start of their annual two-day conference in Yangon, Suu Kyi said the party had not yet committed to competing in its first national vote in a quarter of a century.
The polls, scheduled for October or November, are seen as a vital test of democratic reforms in Myanmar after decades of military rule, and if free and fair, the NLD is expected to make sweeping gains.
But Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president, regardless of the election result, under a controversial junta-era constitution that she has previously labeled unfair and undemocratic.
“Soon the National League for Democracy will decide whether we will run for election or not,” she told dozens of senior party members gathered for the meeting in downtown Yangon. “After we decide, we will choose representatives.”
Even though a decision had yet to be made, the Nobel laureate indicated the party was nevertheless already gearing up for the poll.
“This year is the year that we really have to try,” she told the party’s Central Committee, who had gathered from across the country, some wearing the brightly colored headdresses of their ethnic minority regions.
“We can’t take anything for granted, just because we won in the past. We have to try all the time,” she said.
Myanmar’s constitution reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for unelected soldiers, while also excluding those with foreign spouses and children from top office—a provision seen as aimed directly at Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British.
The NLD has accelerated its efforts to amend the charter in recent months, focusing on the clause that hands an effective veto on key constitutional amendments to the army.
It garnered some five million signatures in a nationwide petition on the issue last year. But military members have vociferously opposed any reduction to their voting privileges.
A long-awaited draft bill, published in state media this month and due to be debated in parliament in the coming days, slightly reduced the voting threshold for amendments, from 75 percent to 70 percent, making it easier for elected lawmakers to vote them through.
But it kept the provision that bars Suu Kyi from becoming president, meaning that parliament will instead choose who should hold the top post following the election.
The veteran activist, who turned 70 on Friday, reiterated her recent call for clean politics in her address to party members, adding that the NLD would ask its electoral candidates to declare their assets and those of their spouses.
The move is a shot across the bows for the elite in Myanmar, where years of junta rule and cronyism have left the country saturated by corruption—it was ranked 156 out of 175 nations in Transparency International’s 2014 index of least corrupt countries.
Myanmar began emerging from military rule in 2011 following an election marred by widespread accusations of cheating and the absence of the NLD.
The once pariah nation was widely praised for then launching a spread of economic and political reforms with most international sanctions against it dropped.
But in recent months rights groups and Suu Kyi have warned that the country’s transition towards democracy has stalled.
The NLD last competed in a nationwide vote in 1990, when it won by a landslide but was never allowed to take power.