Myanmar speaker says govt pivotal in constitutional change
Parliament speaker Shwe Mann talks to members of the media at the lower house in Naypyidaw on August 16, 2013. Shwe Mann said the government will be instrumental in any amendment to the nation's military-drafted constitution, which currently bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.
Opposition members of parliament and democracy activists have raised fears military lawmakers, who have 25 percent of seats guaranteed under the current constitution, may prove an obstacle to amending the document regardless of whether the government presses for change.
But former general-turned-speaker Shwe Mann on Friday told reporters that the decision to amend the constitution -- or not -- before a hotly-anticipated general election in 2015 will need the blessing of reformist President Thein Sein's government.
The house last month formed a committee to review the document made up of 109 lawmakers including 52 from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) party, 25 from the military and seven MPs from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
"How far we can complete an amendment of the constitution (before 2015) depends on the struggle between committee members," Shwe Mann, who is chairman of both lower and upper houses, told reporters in a rare press briefing convened in the capital Naypyidaw.
"The main thing is that it's very important the administration is involved. Whenever a law is enacted, the involvement of the administrative body is very important."
Reporters had been told Suu Kyi would also attend the briefing but she withdrew to be present at a parliamentary session.
A major hurdle to Suu Kyi's stated presidential ambitions is the current constitution, crafted under the former military regime and which blocks anyone whose spouses or children are overseas citizens from leading the country.
Opposition politicians and democracy activists have criticised the constitution, which was written by the former junta more than a decade ago and approved by a nationwide referendum in 2008 soon after the country had been battered by a cyclone.
Shwe Mann said any tweaks to the constitution must be done "very carefully" but insisted the issue was being taken seriously within parliament.
Analysts have said an amendment before 2015 is a difficult task for the ruling government, given that they need the support of the military lawmakers.
But one lower house lawmaker told AFP the government will be instrumental in the path ahead for any amendment.
"Without the cooperation of the executive we can not do it," the MP added, requesting anonymity.
Suu Kyi in June said she wanted to run for the top office.
Incumbent Thein Sein is yet to indicate if he will stand in the 2015 polls, anticipated to be a milestone in Myanmar's transformation from an authoritarian nation to democracy.
The speaker, a key architect of reforms since the end of junta-rule in 2011, is the only other figure to declare he will contest the presidency.
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