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Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

FILE - Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seen in a Nov. 13, 2014, image in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year.

In an exclusive interview with the VOA's Burmese Service Sunday, the Nobel laureate said it is vital that she and her supporters continue to lobby for change.

"We never expected it to be easy but believed it to be possible. The question is when. If we can change the constitution earlier, it is better for the country. We need the courage and ability to change whatever needs to be changed for the betterment of the country," said pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

She also said her National League for Democracy (NLD) is ready for all the people of Myanmar, also known as Burma, to have a say on the matter.

"Then why don’t you call for a nationwide referendum? We are more than ready for that. In that way, you can find out others’ opinions as well," she added.

Aung San Suu Kyi was responding to Myanmar Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing, who was dismissive of an NLD effort that collected five million signatures in support of amending the constitution.

Genaral Min Aung Hlaing (L) speaks to VOA Burmese Service Chief Than Lwin Htun in an exclusive interview in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 22, 2014.
Genaral Min Aung Hlaing (L) speaks to VOA Burmese Service Chief Than Lwin Htun in an exclusive interview in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 22, 2014.

In an exclusive and rare interview with VOA Saturday, General Min Aung Hlaing said the constitutional clause in question is not aimed specifically at Aung San Suu Kyi.

"This limitation does not aim at one particular individual or one group or one ethnic group, but covers the whole nation. Another problem is - we have to consider the situations that existed since the pre-independence period, and we have lots of immigration problems as we are a country between extremely populated countries," said he.

The clause in question bars anyone from becoming president if they have a spouse or child that is a citizen of a foreign country. Aung San Suu Kyi is banned because her two sons are British. Her late husband was also a British citizen.

Official push-back

When asked whether he might meet one-on-one with Aung San Suu Kyi, General Min Aung Hlaing called such a discussion with the National League for Democracy leader "difficult," saying her political intentions may not be the same as his. But he said he would not rule out the possibility of a meeting, saying they may hold one if necessary.

The powerful armed forces chief reportedly held discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time late last month during unprecedented talks among 14 of Myanmar's political rivals and military leaders. The talks led to commitments to discuss political reforms and peace negotiations.

But many opposition figures criticized the meeting as a means of avoiding meaningful dialogue.

Aung San Suu Kyi later demanded four-party talks with President Thein Sein, General Hlaing and the speaker of the House.

But President Thein Sein appeared to dismiss the idea in an interview with VOA Thursday at the presidential residence.

"Discussion is the right way [to find a political solution], but only among the four of us is not inclusive enough," he said.

Thein Sein, a 69-year-old retired army general, has been president of Myanmar since 2011, following a four-year stint as prime minister. Before that, Myanmar had been under absolute military control for nearly five decades - from 1962 until 2010.

Thein Sein told VOA he has not decided whether to run for a second term next year.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Burmese Service.