NLD believes Suu Kyi can be president

NLD believes Suu Kyi can be president

Myanmar's opposition leader is planning to be the country's next president after her party overwhelmingly won this month's polls. Although the constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the position -- because she was married to a foreigner and her two children are foreign nationals -- she and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), are preparing to nominate her when parliament convenes at the end of January.

In the meantime the party leader is trying to arrange face-to-face meetings with the country's current top leaders -- President Thein Sein, the parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and the commander-in-chief, Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing -- to discuss the transfer of power and national reconciliation.

Despite 59(F) (the constitutional clause which governs presidency requirements), the NLD is looking for a way for Ms Suu Kyi to become president. The party's senior leader and patron, Tin Oo, told the Bangkok Post: "We need to find a way to make that happen." Party insiders refer to Plan Zero, which seems to mean a road map to make her president.

Although the election result is yet to be declared official -- the election commission is considering numerous complaints and protests -- it is clear Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are convincing winners. They are on track to garner more than 80% of the seats that were contested, although 25% of the MPs are soldiers selected by the military's commander-in-chief. "This is where [seat] numbers actually count," said Myat Thu, head of the Yangon School of Political Science. "Now that the NLD clearly has more than 75% of the popular vote, it means they have the power to mold the future."

When the parliament reconvenes with the new MPs, the upper and lower houses will elect a vice-president each, and the military bloc selects a candidate. Then the president is chosen at a joint sitting of both houses of parliament from the three candidates. This means the NLD will nominate two presidential candidates in the upper and lower houses, and their favoured contender will certainly be elected the next president. "The people clearly want [Aung San Suu Kyi] to be president," said Tin Oo. "It is only right and proper. She deserves to be president," he said.

Though the constitution seems to prevent this from happening, there is one way to overcome this, according to the NLD leader. That is to temporarily suspend or repeal the clause that stands in her way. The U Nu government did that in the 1950s to allow then army commander Ne Win to become caretaker prime minister, he said. Legal experts, however, say the clause that allowed it to happen was included in the 1948 constitution, which is not the current one.

Sources in the president's office say work is underway on how this provision can be used in this case. It is something the military might accept, according to Myanmar analysts and observers. "The military commander and government officials have all emphasised the need to protect and preserve the constitution," said Myat Thu of the Yangon School of Political Science.

Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing last week went even further and said the army would protect the constitution with their lives. For some this meant he was ruling out the possibility of changing the constitution to allow Ms Suu Kyi to become president.

But if the clause blocking her was temporarily revoked -- for this instance only -- it might meet the approval of the country's leaders who drafted the 2008 constitution. "As long as 59(F) is still there to prevent other foreigners -- Indians or Chinese -- becoming president in future, the army may accept it," said a source in the president's office, who declined to be named.

The NLD has been insisting constitutional change is top priority for the new government, but recently its leaders like Tin Oo have been suggesting that this will need time and detailed discussion -- up to one or two years, and only after political dialogue on a federal state, which is the next stage of the peace process.

Of course what is needed is for Aung San Suu Kyi to sit down with the top three men in the government and map out the transfer of power. "It's a power sharing proposition," said Myat Thu, as the army still has considerable influence in government and therefore the selection of one vice president and three ministers: border affairs, defence and home affairs. "They need to discuss how to move forward or else there will be instability, uncertainty and even a constitutional crisis."

With the NLD in the driving seat because it convincingly controls the parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi's nomination for president seems certain. In the process of selecting a new president, the parliament will have to elect a speaker and deputy speaker for both houses. These four people will then form a scrutinising committee to vet the presidential nominations and conduct the parliamentary poll. In this case the four will be NLD MPs or supporters -- perhaps from one of the elected ethnic minority representatives -- Arakan, Shan or Zomi.

They would have the power to approve Aung San Suu Kyi as a candidate for the lower house, and with the NLD's superiority of numbers, duly elect her as president. All that would stop her from assuming the presidency would be a legal challenge in the constitutional court or an administrative coup by the commander in chief, which is possible under the current constitution. But both would be very disruptive and increase instability. It would end Myanmar's international support and reverse the liberal reform process, something everyone wants to avoid.

So the proposed talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the three leaders is pivotal to what happens next in Myanmar. She has already met the speaker, Shwe Mann, and agreed on the way forward, and for the need for the transition to the NLD government to be smooth and peaceful. He also advised her to seek a meeting with the former leader and architect of the current constitution and the political system, Snr Gen Than Shwe, according to sources in the government.

She has been trying to arrange a meeting for more than a week now. Though she has received a response from him, the contents of the message are being kept strictly confidential by both sides. At the same time she is still pressing for meetings with Min Aung Hlaing and Thein Sein. But they are waiting until the official election results are announced.

The president is willing -- in fact anxious -- to meet The Lady to prepare for the handover, but his close advisers have pressured him into waiting, according to sources in the president's office. But the 45-day delay recently mooted will be relaxed, according to sources close to the matter. US President Barack Obama has urged Thein Sein -- when they met in Kuala Lumpur for Apec -- to meet her as soon as possible. This may now result in a meeting very soon, possibly later this week.

"We need to build trust [with the army]. It needs to be done gradually and cleverly," said Tin Oo. "For that, it is necessary for the key players to sit at the same table and talk, but with an agenda of substance."


Larry Jagan is a specialist on Myanmar and a former BBC World Service news editor for the region.

Larry Jagan

Former BBC World Service News Editor

Larry Jagan is a specialist on Myanmar and a former BBC World Service News Editor for the region.

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