November 5, 2014 – Myanmar’s reform process is “stalling”, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said earlier today, warning the United States against over-optimism before a visit by President Barack Obama to the country.
Suu Kyi, who has long looked to the West in her efforts to promote democracy in Myanmar, voiced caution at the pace of her country’s emergence from military rule, which began in 2011.
“There have been times when the United States government has seemed over-optimistic about the reform process,” she told reporters at her National League for Democracy party (NLD) headquarters in Yangon. “This reform process started stalling early last year,” she said, adding that she would question whether any major positive changes had happened “in the last 24 months”.
The Nobel laureate’s remarks come a week before she is due to hold talks with the US leader as part of his two-day visit to Myanmar for a regional summit. Obama, who is also scheduled to meet Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, is likely to reiterate a call he made last week for “inclusive and credible” elections.
Thein Sein’s regime has earned international plaudits and the removal of most Western sanctions in return for reforms, including releasing most political prisoners and allowing Suu Kyi and her party into parliament. But the government has faced growing accusations that it has backtracked on rights issues in recent months, with journalists jailed in several high-profile cases and dozens of activists arrested.
Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under house arrest under junta rule, is due to contest the elections in October or November next year.
But the veteran campaigner is currently barred from taking the presidency – a position appointed by parliament – because of a clause in the junta-drafted constitution. This bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from taking the top political office – a provision widely thought to have been written specifically to thwart her political rise.
Suu Kyi, 69, said she did not object to the clause because it blocks her political aspirations “but because it is intended to keep one particular citizen out of the presidency… a constitution should not be written with one person in mind”.
Her party this year gained around five million signatures on a petition to end the army’s veto on amending the charter.
A majority of more than 75 percent of parliament is currently required to change the constitution, and unelected soldiers effectively have the final say because they make up a quarter of the legislature.
Suu Kyi said Myanmar’s reforms were not going in reverse. But she added that her historic meeting last week with Thein Sein and military top brass and other parties had fallen short of expectations.
In a monthly speech published in state-backed media on Wednesday, Thein Sein acknowledged that Myanmar faced significant challenges, including holding next year’s polls as well as ending multiple conflicts in ethnic-minority border areas.
But he urged all sectors to “find common solutions” to the problems in the fast-changing nation and work to create a “culture of dialogue”.