Since her release from house arrest in 2010 in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Aung San Suu Kyi has seen great changes in her country, and she has been working to affect even more change. As the chairperson for the National League for Democracy, or NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi was attempting to work with Parliament in Myanmar, who now say she and her party will not be able to sway the government in matters of constitution reform. This comes as a blow for the embattled former political prisoner, who worked tirelessly as an activist even while she was placed in home confinement for 15 of her 21 years in office before her release in 2010. Now that she is back as chair of the NLD since May of 2012 and a member of parliament, Aung San Suu Kui has worked full steam ahead with her campaigns for change, but her efforts have seen their fair share of snags.
Aung San Suu Kyi has won a myriad of awards for her human rights work in Myanmar and her efforts to bring democratic ideals to her country. Among her accolades are the International Simon Bolivar Prize from the Venezuelan government in 2007, the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1991, and both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal from the United States in 2012. Despite her recognition from the international community, it has been an uphill battle for Aung San Suu Kyi to gain purchase or recognition in her own country. She was elected to the lower house of parliament, the Pyithu Hluttaw, in 1988. In 1990, the public voted NLD representatives into 81 percent of the seats in parliament, but the party was still repressed by the regime.
In 2009, the United Nations turned its attention to the issues in Myanmar. The UN began to pressure the military regime in power to release the activist following an incident where she was jailed for allowing a man who swam across Inya Lake in Yangon to see her and stay at her home. For this she was imprisoned. The international community began to rally for Ang San Suu Kyi during her trial. The United Nations Security Council, Japan, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Burma is a member of this association), and Thailand’s Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General all called for her release. After much negotiation on the part of Ban Ki-Moon and much political mudslinging, Burma finally released Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010.
Since then, Aung San Suu Kyi has continued to fight to gain purchase and sway with her newly elected seat in Parliament and her position as chair of the NLD, but the military regime in Myanmar will not have change so quickly. The newly elected opposition leader’s most recent move has been to try to amend the Burmese Constitution. She and other leaders of a group called the 88 Generation have staged huge rallies in all of Myanmar’s major cities, as well as circulating an international petition for the reform which to date has already collected 3.3 million signatures.
Article 436 is the amendment in Myanmar’s 2008 Constitutional Charter pushed by Su Kyi’s group. This article states essentially that amendments to the Constitution can only happen with a 75 percent majority of all members of parliament, which is controlled almost exclusively by military leaders. This amounts to veto power for any amendments by the military regime, and provides a huge loophole for any constitutional change in Myanmar, unless the NLD and other opposition groups are able to take a larger majority in the legislature. A secondary complaint about the Constitution for Suu Kyi and her followers is Article 59 which prevents her from running for or holding the office of president in Myanmar due to the fact that her children have citizenship in Britian. As she hopes to run for the presidency in 2015,the reform of this article is critical.
This year there will be a meeting of the country’s Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee, which, unsurprisingly, is made up mostly of members of the former military junta, now called the USDP or Union Soildarity and Development Party. The committee’s chairman and also USDP chair Shwe Mann has said that while Articles 436 and 59 will be discussed in the meeting, the actual changes that Aung San Suu Kyi are calling for will not. Citing that it is the distinct prerogative of the members of the committee to determine changes, and not Members of Parliament who do not belong to the committee, Shwe Mann had given the 88 Generation little hope of reform. Like everyone else, Myanmar NLP politicians will have to wait until 2015, just before the general election to find out whether any changes have been made to these two key clauses. As Shwe Mann also has eyes set on a run for the presidency, however, Aun San Suu Kyi does not have high hopes that any reform will take place prior to the general election without outside intervention.
The petition to force the Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee to amend Articles 436 and 59 will remain open until July 19, and Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD will continue to hold rallies and try to get the attention of the international community once more for help in swaying the former military regime toward a more balanced government in Myanmar. Though her accomplishments since her release in 2010 and rise to Parliament in 2012 have been great, Aung San Suu Kyi clearly still feels there is much work to be done in Myanmar before she is happy with their constitution and the government as a whole. It appears she has the stamina, political bandwidth and support from the international community and the Myanmar people to affect these changes, but it is apparent that more time will need to pass before real changes to the charter can occur.
Written by Layla Klamt