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Myanmar army chief says he would welcome woman president


Myanmar's powerful army chief said Monday he would welcome the prospect of a female president, words that will be little comfort to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is barred from the post.
 
Myanmar holds parliamentary polls in November, and even though Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy is expected to make significant gains she will not become president.
 
Under a military-drafted constitution the country cannot be led by anyone with foreign-born offspring. Suu Kyi's children were born in the UK to a British father.
 
But in a rare interview with local and international media, General Min Aung Hlaing said he had no issue with the formerly junta-run nation being led one day by a woman.
 
"I welcome them. Whether man or woman to serve duty, I welcome them," the army chief said at the meeting in a military compound in the capital Naypyidaw.
 
"We arrived here this stage because our mothers nurtured us," he said, adding that he had also appointed women to senior posts within the Tatmadaw (military).
 
"There are many women officers in our Tatmadaw as well now. We see they are also very capable."
 
Some 30 million voters are expected to head to the polls on November 8 for what observers hope will be the freest election in decades.
 
Myanmar languished for years under a brutal isolationist junta which crushed opposition and ruined the economy while enriching a coterie of senior military officers.
 
In 2011 army rule gave way to a quasi-reformist civilian government -- dominated by former generals -- which led to the lifting of most Western sanctions and a promise of elections.
 
The November polls will be the first general election in a quarter of a century to be contested by the NLD.
 
But the army will continue to wield significant political influence even if the opposition sweeps the polls because 25 percent of seats in parliament will still be reserved for the military. 
 
- Army still powerful -
 
Observers say the army is deeply wedded to its perceived role as protector of the Myanmar constitution, which was drawn up under a former military regime that suppressed all dissent and kept Suu Kyi under lock and key for some 15 years.
 
The NLD has vowed to change the charter to reduce the army's role and overturn the provision which bans Suu Kyi from becoming president.
 
The country's next leader will be chosen three months after the election. Three candidates will be put forward and voted on by the two houses of parliament and the military.
 
Current president Thein Sein, himself a former general and member of the military-backed USDP party, is seen as a likely candidate.
 
In an interview in July, General Min Aung Hlaing said he had not ruled out becoming president if asked. The NLD has not said who its preferred candidate will be.
 
The army chief also addressed the issue of people fleeing Myanmar's shores.
 
Over the years tens of thousands of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority have fled in rickety boats, usually towards Malaysia, at the hands of vicious smuggling gangs.
 
Many have perished along the way.
 
A crackdown by Thailand in May left hundreds stranded on land and at sea, prompting a belated regional response.
 
The crisis abated with the arrival of the monsoon rains but the general said he expected departures to pick up again.
 
"We cannot prevent boat people," he said. "If we do so, people who have same religion could make trouble on it."
 
"There are many routes to go... we will try our best if the situation worsens."
 
Most Rohingya are not recognised as Myanmar citizens despite many living in the country for generations.
 
Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to their persecution to persuade more to leave.
 
© AFP

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