EU to urge Myanmar to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to seek presidency

By James Fontanella-Khan in Brussels
EU member states will urge Myanmar’s former military rulers to change the country’s constitution and electoral laws to allow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to run in 2015 presidential elections.

The bloc’s foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday, will warn that, without free and fair elections, Myanmar risks returning to a state of civil unrest and erasing the pro-democracy reforms it has undertaken since 2010, according to EU diplomats.

Under Myanmar’s electoral rules, Ms Suu Kyi is barred from seeking the presidency because she was married to a foreigner. The government’s willingness to change the rules is being portrayed in the west as yet another test of Myanmar’s commitment to reform.

There is a widespread expectation among diplomats and analysts that fair elections could propel the pro-democracy leader to power, less than three years after she was released from house arrest.

“The council encourages an inclusive review process to bring the constitution in line with the requirements of a modern democracy and to help achieve lasting peace and national reconciliation,” read the meeting’s draft conclusions, which have been seen by the Financial Times.

The constitution should enable the conduct of credible, transparent and inclusive general and presidential elections in 2015, allowing all candidates to fairly contest the elections.”

EU foreign affairs chiefs will praise Myanmar’s government for the wave of political, social and economic changes undertaken since 2010 under President Thein Sein, a former army general. By calling for free and fair elections they hope to maintain the pressure on the former military junta.

Myanmar’s reform record has surprised even the regime’s biggest critics as political prisoners have been released, press censorship abolished, free by-elections held and progressive laws passed over the past three years.

“It’s important that the EU gets full square behind the push to encourage constitutional change in Burma. The ‘presidency clause’ is the key means for Burma to show the world it is serious about irreversible reform. If approved, EU foreign ministers will be sending a very strong signal to Burma,” said an EU diplomat.

The decision to include a call for electoral change has been pushed by the UK, which has repeatedly urged Myanmar’s leadership to allow Ms Suu Kyi to run in the 2015 elections.

David Cameron, UK prime minister, said in October that elections under the existing rules would be a farce.

“It would be completely wrong for elections to be held under a constitution that really excludes one person – who happens to be the leader of democracy in Burma [as Myanmar was previously called],” Mr Cameron said at joint press conference with Ms Suu Kyi. “Those would be no elections at all in my view. Those would not be democratic elections.”

Follow James Fontanella-Khan on Twitter @JFK_Europa

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