SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Standing next to Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that the law barring her from becoming president “doesn’t make much sense.”
It was the clearest statement Obama has made on Suu Kyi’s political future, but he stopped short of explicitly urging that changes be made to allow her to run for the presidency.
Suu Kyi, like Obama a Nobel laureate, is barred from contesting for president in next year’s election because her two sons are foreign nationals. Her late husband and two sons are British, and the democracy champion is seeking an amendment.
“I don’t understand a provision that would bar someone from being president because of who their children are — that doesn’t make much sense to me,” Obama told reporters outside Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in Yangon without naming her.
The issue is currently being debated in parliament, where 25 percent of the seats are set aside for the military, which held Suu Kyi in some form of detainment for the better part of two decades.
It is widely believed that the law was written specifically with Suu Kyi in mind. She remains wildly popular, and her party, which swept a 1990 vote that was ignored by the military, is expected to do well in next year’s elections.
Washington has pressed for more change in Myanmar, where political and economic reforms launched two years ago seem to have stalled. Obama is heavily invested in Myanmar’s progress, having made a historic trip there two years ago to signal a strong U.S. commitment to democratization in the country and the broader region.
The United States has said it is willing to let the transition take shape and has avoided specific demands. Nevertheless, Obama told President Thein Sein that the next election, slated for 2015, needs to be fair, inclusive and transparent.
“Our reform process is going through a bumpy patch,” Suu Kyi said. “But this bumpy patch is something we can negotiate with commitment and the help and understanding of our friends around the world.”
“When Burma becomes a fully functioning democracy in accordance with the will of the people, we will be able to say that among those friends who enabled us to get there, the United States was among the first,” she said, using the old name for Myanmar.
But left unaddressed by Obama during his two days in Myanmar was growing skepticism about whether Suu Kyi, his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is willing to fight as vigorously for human rights and tolerance as she is for democratic reforms. Rohingya Muslims are a minority group deeply disdained by most in the majority-Buddhist country, but Suu Kyi has resisted calls to speak out on their behalf.
In a bid to draw attention to the issue, the U.S. advocacy group United to End Genocide launched a social media campaign titled #JustSayTheirName, and thousands of people have signed an online petition and tweeted photos of themselves holding placards with the slogan on social media.
During a private meeting with President Thein Sein on Thursday which focused largely on the Rohingya’s plight and a need for constitutional reforms ahead of 2015 elections, Obama used the word “Rohingya” multiple times and did so purposefully, according to a senior U.S. official who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to comment by name.
But when Asked by an American journalist about the plight of the Rohingya, Suu Kyi wouldn’t even say their name. That’s a position shared by Myanmar’s government, which deems the roughly 1.3 million Rohingya to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh and says the Rohingya ethnicity does not exist.
“If you ask how do we propose to resolve all these problems of violence between communities, between ethnic groups, we’ve got to start with rule of law,” Suu Kyi said, speaking in general terms. “People who feel threatened are not going to sit down and sort out their problems.”