By Aung Hla Tun and Simon Webb
BANGKOK (Reuters) - The party of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will contest the general election this year even if there is no change in the constitution to allow the Nobel laureate to become president, one of the party's top leaders said on Friday.
The National League for Democracy would have more power to push for an end to the military’s veto over charter changes and remove the obstacles to her presidency if it wins the election, NLD Central Executive Committee Secretary Nyan Win said.
"We are going to compete," he told Reuters in an interview. "First, we need the majority in parliament. After that, we will be in a stronger position and we hope we can change the constitution."
The NLD had not previously committed to competing in the election, prompting speculation Suu Kyi was using participation as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the government.
Without Suu Kyi, who spent nearly two decades under house arrest for campaigning for democracy, the election would have lacked international legitimacy. Foreign governments lifted sanctions after 49 years of military rule ended in 2011 on condition of further democratic reforms.
The NLD and the government have been in a standoff over the constitution, which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats and key government posts for the military and bars Suu Kyi from the presidency because her sons are foreign nationals.
Barring Suu Kyi from the presidency made no sense, U.S. President Barack Obama said in November. The U.S. has said it wants to see free and fair elections in Myanmar this year, but that was impossible without constitutional change, Nyan Win said. "The election may be free, but it won't be fair," he said.
The NLD is considering alternative candidates for the presidency but has yet to decide on one, he said.
It would not back former general Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament and chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), to avoid angering the NLD’s rank and file, he said.
Party aides told Reuters last year the party might support him due to a lack of NLD alternatives.
"We don't want to see an army man in the top post," Nyan Win said. "We have many people in the party qualified."
The party hoped younger members of the armed forces might be more reform minded, he added. It would need at least one member of the military in parliament to amend the constitution.
"We will say to them: 'Please, finally, think of the country'," he said.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)