Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘Whether Suu Kyi Can Become President No Longer Depends on the People’

By The Irrawaddy 30 January 2016

Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. Leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing held talks this Monday. The talks reportedly focused on a peaceful transition in the post-election period, matters related to the parliament, and permanent peace. But beyond these, it will be interesting to see what agreements the military and the incoming NLD government have made and how power will be shared. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society and Ko Thalun Zaung Htet, editor of The Irrawaddy’s Burmese edition, will join me to discuss this. I’m Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy’s English edition.

Ko Aung Zaw Moe, according to the photos, the talks between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing seem pleasing, and it seems that people in general are also pleased with them. We can say that the topics they discussed are key issues. But upon taking a closer look, it seems that the military and the NLD are even discussing sharing power within the next government: in other words, forming of a government of national reconciliation. Can we conclude that they are discussing power sharing?

Aung Moe Zaw: Personally, I think the discussion focused on forming the next government. They might have also discussed other issues, but I mainly [think it was] about the next government. The constitution provides three ministerial posts for the military in the government, plus the vice-presidency. I think the NLD might appoint those recommended by the military and some from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) into its cabinet. The NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi might offer ministerial posts to those persons for the stable functioning of administrative mechanisms. It is more likely that they could share power through negotiations, rather than forming a government of national reconciliation.

KZM: The question remains among Myanmar people and the international community whether Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can be the president. There is speculation that Article 59(f), which bars her from the presidency, will be suspended. But, gauging the attitude of military leaders, I’m afraid this will not happen for the time being. What do you think?

AMZ: For the time being, the military might be hesitant to accept Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the president. But for the country, I think it is very important that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi becomes the president. It would be best for the country if she became the president, I think.

KZM: It is the best-case scenario. If the military paved the way for her to take the presidency, perhaps she might have to give back something in return, like formal positions for military leaders and military lawmakers in the cabinet. Here Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s decision will be a determining factor. Ko Thalun, what have you heard about the cards they are keeping close to their chests?

Thalun Zaung Htet: Prior to the talks, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing appointed former Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s son-in-law, Brig-Gen Thein Naing from Mingaladon Air Base, to Rangoon Division’s parliament. It is an interesting point. Moreover, generals-turned-candidates such as former lieutenant generals Hla Htay Win, Myint Soe, Khin Zaw Oo, Thura Thet Swe and Thet Naing Win are still involved in peace talks through the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC). These former generals are still engaged with military offices. I think they might certainly be the part of the NLD government.

KZM: It is not as though former Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s son-in-law Brig-Gen Thein Naing is appointed to the division parliament for no reason. There will be similar cases in other division and state parliaments. It seems that the military has carefully planned for its future. Does the military intend to appoint Brig-Gen Thein Naing as the chief minister of Rangoon Division? If they have such an intention, they might talk with the NLD. The military has made thorough preparations, putting its men into the governments and parliaments at both central and division or state levels. Have you noticed whether the NLD has prepared that much?

AMZ: Previously, there was no such preparation. There may be such preparation at present, but there is no information about it, so it is difficult to predict. Generally, both the governments and parliaments at central and division or state level will include NLD members, plus some ethnic leaders and service personnel recommended by the military, and some USDP members like Thura U Aung Ko, who the NLD likes. It is fair to assume that those recommended by the military will be included in both central and division or state governments, in addition to the quota of positions for the military.

KZM: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was given the mandate by the people and I’m afraid people will be displeased with the next government if there is only a small proportion of NLD members in it.

AMZ: I think she might take a risk. She has great confidence. I think she has decided to do so because she believes she can. One thing I am sure of is that she is soliciting cooperation from the military right now.

KZM: Yes, I think the military is the key. If the military does not cooperate, her cabinet may face lots of hurdles. But what about the participation of ethnic persons, Ko Thalun? Recently, there have been unconfirmed reports about ethnic nominees for deputy speaker posts in the parliaments. What have you heard about them?

TZH: A couple of days ago, I happened to talk with the chairman of an ethnic party. He said that the NLD had received the mandate thanks to the votes, and had consequently held negotiations with the military to exercise that mandate. As the NLD holds one negotiation after another with the government, they are now on the side of the military, he thinks. He said that the two get closer through frequent negotiations and that the NLD now barely meets ethnic stakeholders. As the NLD is only engaging continuously with the military, he said the ethnic parties are concerned that the NLD will not consider them [for the posts]. There might be agreements between the NLD leader and the military chief. Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held discussions on Monday on permanent peace, the nationwide ceasefire accord (NCA) and federalism. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has always upheld federalism. But the ethnic groups have started to become concerned that the federal system which will be adopted will be the one favored by the military, not the one they want.

Regarding power sharing, there is a prediction that a member of the Arakan National Party will be given the position of Upper House speaker and an ethnic Karen will be given the position of deputy Lower House speaker. But I think the nomination process needs to be transparent. Mainly, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi needs to talk to the ethnic groups. At present, she should hold negotiations with the ethnic groups.

KZM: Yes, it is the right move for reconciliation with the ethnic groups. As far as I understand, the military and people’s leaders are key players in national reconciliation. But it might arouse the suspicion of both ethnic leaders and ethnic people if the NLD gets too close with the military. But there were lots of suspicions because of the civil war, which spanned some 60 years.

AMZ: Ethnic people have made their suspicions clear. While NLD is cooperating with the military, it should also hold close talks with ethnic parties, ethnic forces and allies. The Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) had allies, like the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA). If the two sides become distant over time, there might be strains [in their relationship] in the long run.

KZM: Another question is what percentage of important positions NLD will give [ethnic representatives] either in the government or in the parliament. It is quite a delicate political situation. Regarding the transparency of nominations, most people will understand that the present time is too sensitive for the NLD to reveal information. I think former Snr-Gen Than Shwe plays a very important role. At the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he said that he would use all of his effort to assist her with the national development of the country. Those words count for a lot. How much influence does the former Snr-Gen have over current military leader Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders: 100 percent, 90 percent or 50 percent?

AMZ: It is important to note that the son-in-law of former Snr-Gen Than Shwe is on the list of nominees to the Rangoon Division Parliament. One thing I am sure of is that former Snr-Gen Than Shwe still has a certain influence over the military and gives advice. Even if the military leaders do not totally take the advice, I think they must have to take it into account.

KZM: I don’t think the military will have 100 percent trust in the government formed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. If Article 59(f) is not changed and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can’t assume the presidency, I think she could take the position of Foreign Minister, if she does not take on another position. But as she has said, she would be above the president. And she will be lady-in-charge as the foreign minister. There is speculation that she would not be able to take the presidency for the next two years.

AMZ: Perhaps I am biased, but I not only want her to become the president for our country, for the military, for the people and for the peace process and constitutional reform process, but especially for national development. It would be best if she were the official in charge of the development of the country and livelihoods of the people.

KZM: But will the military allow that much? Whether Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can become president no longer depends on the people. The people have already voted for her. For Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to become the president, the military needs to annul or suspend Article 59(f). Therefore, it is perhaps fair to say that the military is the key to pave the way for her. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, Ko Thalun, thank you for your contributions. We have to wait and see how the next government will be formed in March.