John Bercow, House of Commons Speaker, has made a highly unusual intervention in a key foreign policy issue by appealing for Burma’s constitution to be amended to allow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to run in elections for the country’s presidency next year.
Mr Bercow, who has a long standing interest in Burma and visited it last summer, says in an Independent article that “if Burma is truly committed to democracy” it must remove a bar excluding individuals whose children are foreign citizens from the Presidency.
The adult children of Aung San Suu Kyi, who Mr Bercow says is the “the most popular politician in Burma“ are, like her late husband Michael Aris, British citizens. Mr Bercow says the present provision was almost certainly included in a deliberate attempt to block” her from running as President.
Mr Bercow says that in the last three years Burma has made “remarkable and welcome moves towards democracy” including lifting press censorship and freeing hundreds of political prisoners - among them Aung San Suu Kyi herself. But he says it is essential that a committee due to report on its review on the constitution later this month lifts the current rule.
Speakers rarely take positions on policy issues, domestic or foreign. But Mr Bercow says that “being in the business of democracy and having been actively interested in Burma for many years, I can stay silent no longer.”