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Burma’s Suu Kyi says she’s aiming for the top

Most politicians coyly deny until the last possible minute that they want to lead their country, but Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi dispensed with the usual pleasantries Thursday and announced unequivocally — two years before the 2015 election — her desire to be president.

Although she has expressed interest before, the timing and venue, a packed meeting of the World Economic Forum in Naypyidaw, Burma’s capital, appeared designed for impact.

“I want to run for president, and I’m quite frank about it,” Suu Kyi, 67, told a panel. “If I pretended that I didn’t want to be president, I wouldn’t be honest, and I would rather be honest with my people than otherwise.”

Only one problem: It will be all but impossible for her to run in the election. And she knows it.

When the then-military dictatorship decided a few years ago to introduce limited democratic reforms and open Burma to the West, analysts said, it wrote rules to ensure that the popular Suu Kyi wouldn’t threaten its power.

The constitution of Burma, also known as Myanmar, states that no Burmese citizen with foreign relatives can become president or vice president. Suu Kyi’s now-deceased husband was British, and her two sons hold British passports.

Beyond that are various procedural barriers. A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament. But 25 percent of the body’s seats are reserved for the military, while a majority of the rest are held by former troops or their close business associates.

“The constitution is designed so it really can’t be changed without the military deciding to do so,” said Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based author of seven books on Burma. “There’s simply no time.”

Even if parliament approves an amendment allowing Suu Kyi to run, the change still requires majority approval in a nationwide referendum, which takes more time, analysts said.

In any fair election based on a popular vote, many Burmese say, Suu Kyi would win handily over her military-backed rivals. She won her parliamentary seat with 99 percent of the vote in an April 2012 special election, while her party took 43 of the 44 seats it contested.

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters during a news conference at the World Economic Forum on East Asia. (Soe Zeya Tun/REUTERS)

— Los Angeles Times


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