YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi vowed Monday to push for constitutional amendments to build a true democracy in the Southeast Asian country as it emerges from decades of military control.
Suu Kyi made the comments in a nationally televised address to mark the start of the Buddhist new year, highlighting her hopes for the future and also the difficult tasks ahead for her new government.
“Our policies and principles are to ensure national reconciliation, internal peace, the rule of law, amendments to the constitution and keeping the democratic system dynamic,” she said.
“The constitution needs to be one that will give birth to a genuine democratic union,” she said. “We need constitutional amendments.”
Suu Kyi’s power to change the constitution remains hamstrung by the military, which still retains considerable power in government and parliament. But she has repeatedly said the current constitution — written during the era of military rule — must be revised so the country can move forward.
The constitution reserves key ministerial posts in the Cabinet for the military, which heads the Home Ministry, the Defence Ministry and the Border Affairs Ministry.
It also allots 25 per cent of the seats in parliament for military officers, ensuring that no government can amend the constitution without the army’s approval. Suu Kyi has been working to build alliances with the military but has reportedly angered the military with her government’s initial acts since taking power two weeks ago.
Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory in November elections, ushering in the country’s first civilian government after 54 years of direct and indirect military rule.
Suu Kyi is the country’s most popular political figure but was unable to become president because of a clause in the constitution that bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the job. Her two sons are British, as was her late husband.
To get around that clause, Suu Kyi selected her longtime confidant, Htin Kyaw, to become president. One of his government’s first acts after taking power at the end of March was to give Suu Kyi a newly created position called “state counsellor” which is akin to that of prime minister.
Htin Kyaw’s government has made it a priority to release political prisoners detained during military rule. Prior to the New Year, his administration freed more than 100 political detainees and on Sunday granted amnesty to another 83.
“We will continue to try to release political prisoners, political activists, and students facing trials related to politics,” he said in televised comments Sunday to mark the new year.