Suu Kyi must use persuasion to attain presidency

Published on December 8, 2015

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The National – December 8, 2015

The National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in last month’s Myanmar election and, so far, there are encouraging signs of a peaceful transition of power after decades of military rule.

The NLD and its supporters around the world want to see the party’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, become the country’s president. Ms Suu Kyi has unequivocally expressed her desire for the job.

However, political analysts have commented on the difficulty of removing or amending article 59(f) of the Myanmar constitution that states that the president, one of his or her parents, spouse or children should “not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be a subject of a foreign power or a citizen of a foreign country”.

This clause covers both of Ms Suu Kyi’s sons, who are British citizens and, like many observers, she believes that it was specifically intended to prevent her from holding the chief executive position.

Despite this obstacle, Ms Suu Kyi has expressed her intention to rule from “above the president”.

As the NLD has a majority in both houses of parliament, the party will have greater leverage, particularly in the executive and legislative branches. However, it will not have a free ride in the parliament, especially when it comes to issues of defence and national security.

It is certain that the military, which has a 25 per cent bloc in parliament and is supported by members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, will be the main opposition force, and that it is likely to resist Ms Suu Kyi.

But this does not necessarily mean that it will be impossible for her to become president. She can do two things to help achieve her aim.

The first would be to convince not only the military leaders but those among her own party members and the country’s ethnic minority groups – including armed organisations – to forgive and forget the past.

Ms Suu Kyi has gone halfway through in this mission. She has so far met three of the most powerful leaders in the country. She has had several conversation with Shwe Mann, the third most powerful general during the State Peace and Development Council military government who is also the speaker of the lower house of parliament.

Last week, she met president Thein Sein, a former military general, and the military’s commander in chief, Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Both leaders assured her of a peaceful power transition to NLD.

The most significant, and perhaps the most crucial meeting, was between Ms Suu Kyi and former military junta supreme leader Than Shwe on December 4, who remains a powerful force in the country.

Although the details of the meeting have not been made public, the former military leader reportedly said the next day: “Everyone has to accept the truth that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be the future leader of Myanmar after winning the elections… I will support her earnestly as much as I can if she really works for the development of the country.”

By supporting Ms Suu Kyi, Gen Than Shwe would expect an assurance that the NLD government would not pursue any punitive actions against the present and former generals for their activities during the years of military rule.

For her part, Ms Suu Kyi has appealed to her fellow NLD lawmakers for reconciliation with the military, saying: “Whatever mistake they have made in the past, we need to give them the chance to change, instead of seeking revenge. If they are doing nothing wrong at the present time, they can join hands with us.”

The second step for Ms Suu Kyi would be to appeal specifically to the country’s ethnic minorities. Though the vast majority of the people of Myanmar suffered under military rule, the ethnic minorities were the worse affected.

Under the repressive regime, thousands of people lost their lives, hundreds of thousands were displaced and many more thousands were maimed or permanently disabled.

It would be very hard for the victims to forgive and forget the brutality of the military regime, but Ms Suu Kyi may be able to convince them to do so in the hope of bringing peace and national reconciliation.

As for Ms Suu Kyi becoming president, there remains some hope of changing the constitutional clause currently precluding her from that role.

That possibility largely depends on Ms Suu Kyi herself, and whether she can convince all the parties – including the present and former military generals and the leaders of the ethnic minorities – that she is right for the job.

Nehginpao Kipgen is a United States-based political scientist and author of three books on Myanmar, including the forthcoming Democratisation of Myanmar

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