YANGON – Opposition leader and chairperson of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi struck a defiant stance ahead of Sunday’s election and hinted that her party would deem the result illegitimate if it doesn’t clinch a decisive majority, setting up a showdown with Myanmar’s still-powerful military.
If the result “is too suspicious, we will have to make a fuss about it,” Ms. Suu Kyi said Thursday at her first news conference in a year following three months of campaigning around the country with thousands turning out at her rallies.
The defiant tone shows Ms. Suu Kyi expects a big win for her party and won’t settle for a back seat role, directly contravening the constitution which bars her from becoming the head of the country.
Ms. Suu Kyi dismissed the military-drafted constitution as “silly,” saying that she will lead the government even if not officially president and “make all the proper and important decisions” should her National League for Democracy win a majority of seats in parliament.
“I am going to be above the president,” she said, emphasizing that all real governance would be in her hands if her party wins a majority. “I have already made plans.”
Though Sunday’s election will be the country’s most open in a half-century with more than 90 parties running, the constitution still allows the military to retain significant power with a quarter of the legislature’s 664 seats. Following Sunday’s election, the legislature will select a president by March.
“Constitutions are made by people, and they are not eternal. If the support of the people is clear and strong enough, I don’t see why we should not be able to overcome minor problems like amendments of the constitution,” she said of the document.
Ms. Suu Kyi’s NLD is competing nationwide for the first time since 1990, when her party won in a landslide two years after she led street protests that were crushed by soldiers. The military ignored the results. Ms. Suu Kyi held her news conference at the same lakeside villa where she spent much of the following two decades under house arrest.
Even if Sunday’s vote goes ahead without any major disruptions, Ms. Suu Kyi’s adamant calls that she will lead the government regardless is likely to add more tension and instability to the months following the election before the president is named.
“It is very clear that Aung San Suu Kyi running the country is a red line for the military, that is why clause 59f was put into the constitution, and that is why they have been unwilling to consider amending,” said Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst. The clause prevents anyone with close foreign family members from assuming the presidency. Ms. Suu Kyi has two foreign sons and was married to a Briton.
Ms. Suu Kyi also said the government-appointed election commission “has not ensured free and fair elections” and is “breaking rules and regulations.” She called on the international community and the public to expose what she said was fraud, including inaccuracies in the voter list and irregularities in the early voting process.
Thousands of independent election monitors are being allowed to observe the vote. The elections are widely seen as a test of how far democracy has taken root in Myanmar. Many election observers believe the government-appointed election commission has largely done a good job in spearheading the process, but they have also raised concerns over a number of issues, including early voting being held behind closed doors at military barracks.
Win Kyi, director of the election commission, said Thursday in response to Ms. Suu Kyi’s accusations that “time will tell whether we have done the right thing or not.” He declined to comment further.
Despite Ms. Suu Kyi’s popularity, some analysts believe that it will be difficult for her to repeat her 1990 landslide results, given competition from ethnic parties that are expected to make gains in their regions. With a quarter of seats in the legislature reserved for the military, Ms. Suu Kyi’s party will have to win over 67% of the seats up for grabs Sunday.
Ms. Suu Kyi said that her party would be ready to work in a spirit of national reconciliation with the military’s allies and ethnic minority parties, but she declined to say whether she would be prepared to continue working with the current president, Thein Sein, a former general who has indicated he is seeking a second five-year term.