Myanmar ruling party chief ready to stand as president if called

Reuters News
Posted: May 01, 2015 4:02 PM

By David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of Myanmar's ruling party said on Friday he would stand as national president if nominated, and was willing to cooperate with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or anyone working in the interests of the country.

Shwe Mann, the speaker of Myanmar's parliament, also told a Washington think tank his party had "aspirations" to change the military-dominated constitution, but indicated time was running short ahead of November general elections.

His Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is comprised largely of former military officers and was created from a social movement set up by the former junta.

Asked if would run as president if nominated, Shwe Mann, in Washington to meet U.S. officials and congressional leaders, replied: "Of course, if the USDP nominated me as a presidential candidate, I would be happy to accept."

Asked if he would be willing to enter a coalition with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred under the constitution from standing as president because she was married to a foreigner, Shwe Mann said they were "very good friends with each other. At the same time we could be very good competitors!

"You are raising the question whether there is the possibility of forming a coalition government after the elections. Of course … for the interests of the country and the people, I am ready to cooperate with (her) today, tomorrow and in the future," he added, speaking through a translator.

He said he would cooperate with any party or individual that cared about the people and the country.

Asked about the possibility of amending Myanmar's constitution before the polls, Shwe Mann said some amendments were more difficult to change than others, including a provision that 25 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for the military. That could require a referendum to approve.

Shwe Mann drew criticism in a question from Amnesty International representative T. Kumar, for calling Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority "Bengalis," rather than Rohingyas.

Human rights groups say the Rohingyas in the western Rakhine state - many of whom have been displaced by deadly clashes with Buddhists and whose citizenship status is in dispute - have been subjected to human rights violations.

Shwe Mann said the group had support from some parliamentary representatives and there was an intention to form a parliamentary committee on fundamental rights and democracy "principles every country has to honor."

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom. Editing by Andre Grenon)