Myanmar's Suu Kyi tells business, political leaders she wants to become president

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – In her clearest statement yet of her political ambitions, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told international business and political leaders on Thursday that she hopes to become her country’s next president.

Delegates attending the Asian edition of the World Economic Forum in Myanmar’s capital heard visions of the country’s future from Suu Kyi and from the other key figure transforming it today, President Thein Sein. More than 900 people from 50 countries are attending the meetings.

The official themes of the conference are regional inclusiveness and integration, but the focus is on host country Myanmar and its political and economic transformation.

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has persevered for decades in promoting democracy. She and her National League for Democracy party were frozen out of politics by the military regime that governed until 2011.

In 2012, she and several dozen party members won parliamentary seats. However, a clause in the army-dictated constitution disqualifies her from becoming president and would have to be amended before she could run.

Suu Kyi will be 70 when the next general election is held in 2015.

“I want to run for president, and I am quite frank about it,” Suu Kyi said. “There are those who say that I shouldn’t say that I want to run for the presidency, but if I pretended that I don’t want to be, I wouldn’t be honest. And I want to be honest to my people.”

Her comments were the most direct she has made about her political plans. In April, she told reporters in Japan that it would be odd for someone to become the leader of a political party who didn’t want to become the head of government.

Asked Thursday if she was optimistic the constitution would be changed to allow her to become president, she replied: “I don’t believe in indulging in optimism. Changes have to come by endeavour. We are going to work for the constitution to be amended.”

constitutional change requires the co-operation of the military, which controls enough seats in parliament to veto any amendments, and Thein Sein’s military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Earlier this year, factions within the USDP indicated they supported change, and Suu Kyi has been careful to refrain from any sharp criticism of the military.

Suu Kyi’s charisma and popularity have caused her to overshadow Thein Sein, a reserved former general. But he remains the country’s key figure for implementing a policy of political reconcilation allowing Suu Kyi to challenge and perhaps succeed him.

“We are working hard to move from military rule to democracy, to end the multiple armed conflicts that have ridden this nation since independence in 1948, and to reform the economy away from the centralized economy to one based on the free market,” Thein Sein told the forum.

Suu Kyi urged more reforms.

“In order to have rule of law we need an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is not independent,” she said.