RANGOON — Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called on the military to give up its veto power over constitutional amendments, during a rally in Rangoon on Saturday that drew some 15,000 people.
“I would like to ask the army whether they want to back down in a way that’s dignified, in a way that earns them the cheers of their people,” the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman told the crowd.
In a message to army representatives who are guaranteed one-quarter of seats in Parliament, and who are currently endowed with veto power over proposed amendments, she added, “Think of the country’s future and respect the public’s will, which is for you to back down from Parliament, and to do so willingly when the time comes.”
Suu Kyi is ramping up her campaign for amendments to the 2008 Constitution, which, in addition to cementing the military’s dominant role in politics, bars her from the presidency.
In collaboration with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, her NLD party is organizing rallies across the country to show popular support for amendments.
During her speech at Rangoon’s Bo Sein Hman field on Saturday morning, the opposition leader said her first priority was to amend Section 436 of the charter, which requires more than 75 percent of Parliament to support amendments to key articles in the Constitution, giving the military an effective veto over such reforms.
Suu Kyi urged her supporters to educate their communities about the need for this amendment. In the crowd, thousands of hands shot up into the air when she asked who would volunteer to persuade at least 10 to 20 people to join a signature campaign in support of changes to the charter. Fewer hands remained raised when she asked who would persuade 50 people to join the campaign, and fewer still when she encouraged them to convince a member of the military.
The opposition leader criticized President Thein Sein’s own remarks about constitutional reform in Parliament. On March 26, four days prior to the third anniversary of his taking office, the president said constitutional reform should be done “gently,” and that the military should retain its role in politics.
“My opinion is that his speech showed a desire to maintain the 2008 Constitution,” Suu Kyi said.
She addressed concerns that amendments to Article 436 and to Article 59, which bars her from the presidency, would only further the aims of the ethnic majority Burman people, while ignoring the desires of ethnic minorities.
“What do ethnic people want? Genuine democracy. A genuine union based on federalist principles,” she said. “Calls for federalism—our NLD has always supported this, even in times when it was seen as a crime by authorities to even speak about federalism.
“We understand what ethnic people expect and dream of. Our dreams are the same: to live securely and peacefully. All humans have the same dream. All citizens in this country also want to live securely, peacefully and freely.”
Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Peace and Open Society, said more rallies were planned in Mandalay, Rangoon and across the country. The Burmese dissident—one of the most well-known in the country—said it was important to prove to the government that supporters of constitutional reform are informed.
“This is not the day we threaten by showing our quantity, but our quality,” he said. “They believe our people are naïve and know nothing, but the people here are peaceful and disciplined.”
NLD offices across the country will collect signatures as part of a petition campaign for amendments between May 27 and July 19. Any citizen over the age of 18 can participate, so long as they show a valid ID card and address, according to Myo Aung, an NLD central executive committee member.
One member of the crowd, Phyu Ei Thein, said she supported the NLD campaign. “More public talks are needed to further understanding about constitutional reform,” she told The Irrawaddy. “I think this section  needs to be amended because the Constitution was drafted unfairly without the will of the public.”
Win War War Htun, 34, a Burmese citizen who lives abroad and was visiting Rangoon, said she had never before seen this type of rally in her country. “The public needs to be informed about constitutional reform,” she said. “They’re talking about amending section 436 today, and everybody should know about it.”