Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on as she leads a news conference at the foreign ministry in Rome October 28, 2013 REUTERS/Max Rossi

In a rare admission of defeat, a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party has conceded that it cannot win the long-standing battle to amend the constitution's provision that bars the human rights champion from Myanmar's presidential role.

Citing hard maths, party spokesman Nyan Win said an army veto in parliament will block any attempt to change the constitution, despite rumours that the Burma parliament was considering an historic overhaul to allow Suu Kyi to run for elections in November 2015.

"Calculate the ratio mathematically. We cannot win (the fight to change key sections of the constitution)," he told AFP. "So, why are we working for it? Because we believe in democracy," he added.

A petition by the NLD, which obtained five million signatures, urged changes in a clause that would weaken the military's legislative powers and allow amendments to be made easier.

Nyan Win's fears have been echoed by lower house chairman Shwe Mann, who said the constitution could only be altered after the formation of a new parliament after the poll next year. Shwe Mann, a powerful and influential figure in post-military junta Myanmar, said a referendum on the constitution could be held in May - but any changes would be introduced after the elections.

The next legislature then would retain a 25% quota for the military that ruled Myanmar for 49 years.

Section 436 of the constitution requires 75% support for most amendments to the charter, which would require the unlikely support of the military-allied Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP) along with military MPs.

The latest developments seem to justify claims from critics of the Myanmar government that the country is sliding back to junta-era restrictions after a timid reformist start.

Myanmar's president Thein Sein embarked on a series of reforms to ferry the country from the authoritarian military rule to a proper democracy. But activists claim the dramatic reforms that saw international sanctions removed are just a cover-up from the powerful military to hang on to power.

Even US president Barack Obama, who visited Myanmar earlier this month and held separate meetings with Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, admitted that political reforms in the country were "still incomplete" despite progress in the release of prisoners.

The elections were a key theme at the president's news conference with the Nobel peace prize laureate. Suu Kyi is banned from running for presidency by a provision of the 2008 constitution that blocks anyone whose spouse or sons is overseas citizen from leading the country. Suu Kyi's late husband was British as are her two sons.

The clause 59 (f) states that the spouse and offspring of a prospective president cannot owe their "allegiance to a foreign power". Most Burma experts agree that the provision was written specifically to sideline Suu Kyi.

Personal sacrifice

The Burmese dissident spent two decades under house arrest in Rangoon, away from her husband and children in the UK. She rarely talks about the pain of this separation.

The daughter of Burma's independence hero General Aung San - assassinated when she was just two - Suu Kyi married Michael Aris in 1971 and they settled together into Oxford academic life along with the two young sons Alexander and Kim.

When in 1988 Suu Kyi's mother became critically ill in Rangoon, Suu Kyi returned to Burma to look after her. What she saw in her homeland changed her life completely. The city was in turmoil, marred by violent confrontations between students - who will go down in history as the '88 Generation - and the military junta.

Raised and inspired by her father's unfinished legacy, Suu Kyi accepted a proposal by a group of academics to lead a democratic movement, the newly-founded NLD. At the spearhead of rights protests across the country, the campaigner saw her popularity rising, and with that fears of a backlash from the barbaric regime. Eventually, the junta placed her under house arrest.

In the 20 years that followed, Suu Kyi was thrown into an almost impossible choice by the military regime to remain imprisoned in her own house or escape the country and rejoin her family in Oxford, knowing that she would likely not be allowed back to lead the opposition.

But neither Michael Aris nor Suu Kyi pondered such an option. In an interview with the BBC after her release, the activist said that before their marriage they agreed that it was her fate to serve the people of Burma: "I wanted to make sure that he knew from the very beginning that my country meant a great deal to me and should the necessity arise for me to go back to live in Burma, he must never try to stand between my country and me," she said.

The hardest part was when her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1997. He died two years later. "There never was a point when I thought of going. I knew that I wouldn't go. And he knew too," she says.

Suu Kyi was freed in 2010, a week after a general election boycotted by the NLD and regarded as rigged.