YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that she will be the true power above the country’s president if her party wins historic elections Sunday, circumventing a constitutional clause that bars her from the top job.
“It’s a very simple message,” Suu Kyi said, when reporters pressed her to explain what she meant. While another member of her National League for Democracy party would hold the presidential title, “I’ll make all the proper and important decisions.”
“I’ll be above the president,” she said, appearing bemused as she spoke to hundreds of reporters gathered at the lakeside villa that was her prison before the country began its transition from dictatorship to democracy five years ago. “I’ll run the government.”
She insisted her plan was legal because “the constitution says nothing about being ‘above the president.’ ”
Although the comments run contrary to democratic norms, which Suu Kyi has always stood for, they represent the reality in Myanmar’s present ruling structure. The current president takes instructions from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and if a military person were to become president, he would be beholden to the army commander.
The Sunday elections are billed as Myanmar’s best chance ever for a free and credible vote, with experts noting the nation experienced widespread suppression of dissent and violence even before the 1962 coup that plunged the country into military rule for the next half-century.
However, the constitution, drafted under military control, guarantees that the armed forces maintain control over 25 percent of the seats in parliament and the key security portfolios. In a clause widely seen as custom-tailored for Suu Kyi, it also bars her from the presidency because her late husband was British and her two sons hold foreign passports.
The 70-year-old opposition leader said Thursday that the run-up to the vote had been seriously flawed and that she hoped the international community would not be too quick after ballots were counted to declare it free and fair, noting the U.S. and others have at times been overly enthusiastic about political and economic reforms.
The Union Election Commission, which oversees the voting, is headed by a vocal supporter of President Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.