NAYPYIDAW (Myanmar): Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday declared her intention to run for president, calling for all of the country’s people to share the fruits of its dramatic reforms. Addressing the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia in the capital Naypyidaw, the Nobel Peace laureate confirmed she had set her sights on elections due to be held in 2015.
“I want to run for president and I’m quite frank about it,” the veteran democracy activist told delegates. “If I pretended that I didn’t want to be president I wouldn’t be honest.” President Thein Sein’s government has surprised the world since replacing junta rule two years ago, ushering in dramatic political and economic changes that have led to the lifting of most Western sanctions.
The reforms have stoked huge international interest in Myanmar—which is strategically located and has vast natural resources—and the forum is seen as a platform for the country to tout its potential to investors.
“You come to Myanmar at a pivotal moment in our history. We are working hard to move from military rule to democracy,” Thein Sein told delegates in the opening ceremony, adding that other goals were permanently to end the country’s civil wars and reform the economy. “I promise you that we will not waver in this task,” he said.
One major change called for by the opposition is the reform of the military-drafted constitution, which effectively bars Suu Kyi from becoming president because of a rule blocking anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens.
Suu Kyi’s two sons with her late husband Michael Aris are British and the clause is widely believed to be targeted at the Nobel laureate.
Changing certain parts of the text requires the support of more than 75 percent of the members of the fledgling parliament, one quarter of whom are unelected military officials, Suu Kyi noted in a debate hosted by the BBC.
Myanmar’s opposition leader, who was locked up by the former junta for a total of 15 years, remains hugely popular in Myanmar and her National League for Democracy party is widely expected to win elections if they are free and fair.
She called for all of the people to be included in the reform process, warning that otherwise the changes could be jeopardised.
“If the people feel that they’re included in this reform process then it will not be reversible—or at least it will not be easily reversible,” she said.
“But if there are too many people who feel excluded then the dangers of a reversal of the situation would be very great.” Rights activists have criticised Suu Kyi for not clearly speaking out against deadly violence largely directed against minority Muslims that has swept Myanmar over the past year.
She denied her muted response to the unrest was a political move, but said she feared stoking further tensions.
“The government must make sure that those who have committed crimes are punished in accordance with the law. There must be accountability,” she told a later press conference.
“But I do not want fingers pointed at particular communities because it always aggravates the other side, and this seems to have started a vicious cycle of people getting more and more aggressive and more and more extremist. That’s what I am afraid of.”
Suu Kyi has been welcomed into parliament as part of reforms that have also included the release of hundreds of political prisoners and tentative ceasefires in the country’s multiple ethnic civil wars.
Foreign firms are now queuing up to enter the country formerly known as Burma, tantalised by the prospect of a largely untapped market with a potential 60 million new consumers.
But experts say they face major hurdles, including an opaque legal framework and a lack of basic infrastructure and government and private-sector expertise.
“As you land you look at this capital and you see oxen and ploughs,” said Martin Sorrell, chief executive of British advertising giant WPP.
“And getting the balance right, I think, in terms of expectation is critically important because it’s going to build expectations to a level…which I think will be unrealistic,” he said.
Some 900 delegates from more than 50 countries are gathered in the capital for the three-day WEF on East Asia — a regional edition of the annual gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos.
For many delegates it is their first glimpse of the sprawling capital built in secret by the former military rulers, who surprised the world in 2005 by suddenly shifting the seat of government from Yangon.
Home to luxury hotels, broad roads and even a 20-lane boulevard leading to the new parliament, the city’s lack of nightlife, restaurants and cafes has not gone unnoticed by delegates.
“Traffic conditions is very nice,” one Korean delegate said of the city’s near empty multi-lane highways. “Here no traffic—but nowhere to go.