Clinton, Suu Kyi: the two hopeful presidents

Published on February 16, 2016

By Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen

The China Post – February 16, 2016

People around the world would largely agree that Hillary Rodham Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi are two among the most popular women of this generation. However, popularity often comes with intense scrutiny, especially when seeking public office.

As the two democratic icons aspire to become heads of their respective countries – the United States and Myanmar – the international community’s attention toward them has also been greater than ever before.

What challenges confront the two ladies in their quest for the job? Do they really have a chance to become the first woman president of their respective countries?

Some similarities the two individuals share are the fact that they both are advocates of democracy and human rights, candidates for the first woman president of their respective countries, and their global popularity.

Clinton Still at the Early Stage

The difference, however, is that Clinton is still at the early stage of her bid to becoming the leader of the free world, while Suu Kyi is dealing with constitutional matters that prevent her from holding the presidency.

Initially, many considered Clinton the undisputed front-runner of her Democratic Party until the primary election kicked off in Iowa, which resulted in a virtual tie with Bernie Sanders. It then went from bad to worse when Sanders beat Clinton by 22 percentage points in New Hampshire’s primary poll.

Clinton, whose campaign is largely based on the legacy of the Obama administration, has strong support among women and older voters, which is matched by voters who have responded to Sanders’ call for a political revolution.

As the primary season is still a long-way to go, it is premature to say if Clinton will eventually become her party’s nominee. The early political landscape, however, suggests that her pre-poll popularity does not necessarily reflect in her attempt for the chief executive office.

Suu Kyi Is Ineligible According to ’08 Constitution

The difference between Suu Kyi and Clinton is that the former and her National League for Democracy (NLD) have won overwhelmingly in the 2015 general election. The only problem is that Suu Kyi is ineligible for the presidency according to the 2008 constitution drafted by the military government.

Article 59(f) of the Myanmar constitution 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.” Suu Kyi’s two sons and her deceased husband are British citizens.

Since before the election, one of the most important goals of Suu Kyi has been a smooth transition of power with the hope of convincing the military leadership to allow her to become the country’s president.

In her quest for the presidency, Suu Kyi has met the most powerful present and former military leaders, including former military dictator Senior Gen. Than Shwe. She also met the present military commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing and the outgoing President Thein Sein.

When Suu Kyi met the former junta leader Than Shwe in December last year, she assured him that her government would not dwell on the past of military rule. And in return, Than Shwe endorsed Suu Kyi as the “future leader” of the country.

However, negotiations over power transition have stalled on the issue of power division and the legacy of military rule. This led to the NLD’s postponement of the election of a new president to March 17. The new government is supposed to start its term from April 1.

In America, the election of Hillary Clinton would be more or less an extension to the legacy of the Obama administration, especially when it comes to major issues such as health care, immigration and foreign policy.

The likelihood of Clinton’s presidency depends on whether the American people would like to see the continuation of the status quo and if they are ready for a female president for the first time in the nation’s history.

Contrastingly, the presidency of Suu Kyi largely depends on the military. Though there is an alternate route to amending or replacing the constitution outside of the parliament through the peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups, the possibility is bleak.

Unlike the United States, the future course of Myanmar politics is likely to be different and gradual change from the Thein Sein administration if Suu Kyi becomes the president.

Though there is a great interest in seeing two female presidents for the first time in their respective nation’s histories, unfortunately neither their status as advocates of democracy and human rights, nor their global popularity can help them in their quest for the job.

The voters in Myanmar have mandated the NLD to form the next government but it is still too early to tell if the American electorates will give another term to the Democratic Party. For now, Clinton and Suu Kyi remain hopeful presidents.

Nehginpao Kipgen, Ph.D., is a political scientist and assistant professor at the School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. He is the author of three books on Myanmar, including the forthcoming “Myanmar: A Political History” by Oxford University Press.

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