Well before the non-uniformed generals ruling Myanmar can start planning for the 2015 presidential election, Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has announced her intention to contest. “I want to run for President, and I am quite frank about it,” she told the Asian edition of the World Economic Forum held at Naypyitaw on Thursday. Obviously, Daw Suu Kyi had planned the announcement for the first such gathering of business and political leaders from around the world to be held in Myanmar since the recent thaw. Of course, Daw Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy know full well that the present Constitution specifically disqualifies her from contesting an election for the post of president. Article 59(f) says any candidate who is married to a foreign citizen or has children who are foreign citizens is barred from becoming president or vice-president of Myanmar. Daw Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael Aris, who died in 1999, was a British citizen, as are her two children. By declaring her intent despite this prohibition, she has raised the expectations of her supporters and also put the country’s military rulers on the defensive.
The NLD won the 2012 parliamentary by-elections decisively but can do little to drive the process of political change in parliament because 312 of the 440 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw, or House of Representatives, are held by the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party and other military nominees. Two years ago, Thein Sein, the Senior General who ruled Myanmar, hung up his uniform and became President. If Daw Suu Kyi wants to be president, the NLD and the various ethnic groups represented in parliament will have to work towards amending the rigid constitution. But unless a section of the military party is willing to work for a political settlement and reconciliation, such a major challenge cannot be met. This is where Myanmar’s neighbours, including India, need to play a constructive role. By going public with her plan at the World Economic Forum and stating that she wishes to be “honest to my people,” Daw Suu Kyi has prepared the military and the wider world for the changes and challenges that lie ahead. Now that the international community has become fully engaged with the government in Myanmar — President Thein Sein recently visited Washington and was welcomed by Barack Obama in the White House — the work can begin to effect a smooth and negotiated transition to real civilian rule. The arbitrary exclusion of Daw Suu Kyi from the 2015 presidential contest does the Myanmar military no credit. It has already gone further than anyone had imagined in opening up the system to change. It mustn’t stop half-way now.