Suu Kyi and army commander strike deal
text size

Suu Kyi and army commander strike deal

Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not push to be the new president, but instead will run the government from within the cabinet. The Lady — as she is widely known here — will appoint a proxy president, according to senior sources in the National League for Democracy (NLD). Instead, she will be either the foreign minister or senior minister in the cabinet, after the president is elected by the parliament toward the end of March, said a source in the NLD.

Although there is as yet no official announcement, the NLD leader has decided not to tinker with the constitution, which bars her from being president because she was married to the British academic Michael Aris and her two sons are foreign nationals. “Aung San Suu Kyi told the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing that she would not try to amend the constitution for at least two years,” according to sources in both camps, close to the negotiation process. The two leaders met last Wednesday for a third time since the NLD overwhelmingly won the elections last November, to resolve the impasse.

“An immediate political crisis may have been averted,” said Ko Ko, editor of the independent newspaper, Democracy Today and CEO of the Yangon Media Group. “But the negotiations still appear to have failed.” Sources in the military believe that while the immediate issue of the Lady being president has been resolved, other matters have been left hanging.

Ms Suu Kyi also told Min Aung Hlaing last week that everything else would be discussed after April when the NLD officially forms the new government, according to several sources; with the future of the peace process the most delicate issue that needs to be addressed.

For several weeks now there has growing speculation that the NLD leader planned to “suspend” Article 59 (F) which prevented her from being nominated as a presidential candidate. It has been fuelled by vocal pressure from inside the party for her to stand for president. The NLD’s patron (and one of the party’s founders) Tin Oo has been adamant that Ms Suu Kyi should be president.

“We need to find a way to make Aung San Suu Kyi president,” he has consistently told the Bangkok Post. “The people clearly want her to be president,” said Tin Oo. “It is only right and proper, she deserves to be president,” he said emphatically.

Until last week, the NLD leader seemed to be developing two parallel strategies, including one to challenge the constitution and suspend the clause 59 (F). It is possible for the national parliament to legislate to suspend this article in the constitution, the eminent NLD lawyer Ko Ni told the Bangkok Post. “Parliament can make any law it sees fit: it has special powers under the constitution, Section 98; so it can enact a special law to suspend section 59 (F) of the constitution.”

While the Lady seriously considered this option, she has now decided not to challenge the constitution at this stage, according to NLD insiders, for concern that it might precipitate a confrontation with the military, which has continuously made it clear that for them changing the constitution now was not an option. The commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has consistently told Ms Suu Kyi at all three of their meetings since the elections, that the army considered itself the guardians of the constitution. Earlier this week he reiterated this position when he spoke at the staff training college in Shan State.

Referring to history, the senior general said the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) had saved the nation from disintegration on numerous occasions as result of treacherous armed conflict in the early post-independence period, while making many sacrifices.

“History is inundated with example of gross political confusion as a result of disloyalty to the nation, allegiance to foreign countries and the betrayal of the Tatmadaw,” he said. The constitution contains certain provisions to prevent the reoccurrence of similar political disorder, he stressed. Analysts and diplomats read this to mean that as far as the army was concerned the constitution remained sacrosanct and that the military opposed changing 59 (F). But a former senior military officer told the Bangkok Post on condition of anonymity that this was more to do with preserving the military’s continued political role as enshrined in the constitution: the military’s 25% quota of MPs in all parliaments; control of three cabinet posts (border affairs, defence and home affairs); and the right of the commander in chief to seize administrative control of government — in a constitutional coup — if the army feared country’s security was at risk; also maintaining the 75% vote in parliament needed to change the constitution — though it would then have to be put to a national referendum.

“The military are not opposed to Daw Suu becoming president, but not at this time,” said the former military officer. She has to build trust with the army and in due course constitutional change could be possible — perhaps in two years time, he said.

This is the crux of the matter at the moment and the reason Ms Suu Kyi has decided not to press to become president. “Dealing with the army is crucial for Myanmar’s political stability, whether you like it or not,” said Khin Zaw Win, a renowned political commentator and of the think tank. What is needed is realpolitik, on both sides, he added.

“No one knows better than Daw Suu how far she can go with the military,” Janelle Saffin, a former Australian Labour MP and constitutional lawyer, who has been training the new crop of MPs in Nay Pyi Taw in parliamentary procedures.

NLD MPs have been told that the Lady will not be in parliament, causing most to assume she was going to stand for president. But she is most likely to be the foreign minister, said an NLD source. There she can also help the president run the country and be a member of the all powerful National Defence and Security Council — presided over by the president — but includes the army’s commander in chief and his deputy. It oversees policy, while the government handles the day-to-day running of the country.

The foreign minister is the only civilian minister on the council, along with the president, the vice-president and the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament, but they are out numbered by six to five the military representatives.

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

Larry Jagan

A specialist on Myanmar

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

Do you like the content of this article?