Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Still Barred From Presidency as Proposed Charter Change Fails

By San Yamin Aung 11 March 2020

YANGON—A constitutional provision that bars Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from becoming president remains in place, as the National League for Democracy (NLD)’s proposal to scrap the internationally and domestically notorious restriction failed to garner the required support of over 75 percent of lawmakers during a vote on Wednesday.

The Constitution’s Article 59(f) prevents a person from becoming president if their spouse, either of their parents, any of their children or their children’s spouses are citizens of a foreign country. The article is widely viewed as targeting a specific individual: State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose children are British, as was her late husband.

Repealing that restriction was among 114 amendments to the charter proposed by the NLD. Among all the ruling party’s proposals, it faced the strongest opposition from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and military-appointed lawmakers during the previous two weeks of parliamentary debate on charter reform.

As expected, when the Union Parliament voted on the amendment proposals for a second day on Wednesday, the NLD’s proposal regarding Article 59(f) received 393 votes in favor (just over 60 percent of lawmakers), with 242 lawmakers (37 percent), voting against it. The other lawmakers took leave on Wednesday.

To pass, any proposed change to the charter requires the approval of more than 75 percent of lawmaker—or at least 491 MPs.

Currently, the NLD holds 59 percent of the seats in Parliament, the ethnic minority parties 11 percent, the USDP 5 percent and the military its constitutionally mandated 25 percent.

USDP lawmaker and former lieutenant-general U Thaung Aye said blocking the NLD’s bid to scrap Article 59(f) was a victory for the nation.

“The sovereignty of the country was successfully kept in the hands of our ethnic brothers and sisters, and the presidency and vice presidency kept clear of foreign influence… We don’t want it [Article 59(f)] to be repealed,” the former officer told reporters in Naypyitaw.

In September, the military bloc in Parliament submitted its own proposal that would also apply the prohibition to ban a person from becoming a Union minister, or a state or regional chief minister, if any member of their immediate family is a foreign national. The military lawmakers said it was needed to prevent spying by foreign countries, treason, and foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs. That proposal has yet to be voted on by Parliament.

Around 150 nationalists rallied in Naypyitaw on Tuesday to show their opposition to any amendment or repeal of Article 59(f). They attempted to enter the Parliament compound, but were denied access, as they had not sought permission in advance.

Unelected military lawmakers vote on proposed constitutional amendments on March 11, 2020. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

According to posts circulated on social media, the nationalists, clad in identical T-shirts whose color resembled that of military uniforms, praised military lawmakers for their stand against scrapping the article.

Along with the proposed removal of Article 59(f), all of the other 15 proposals on which MPs voted on Wednesday failed to pass, falling short of the required more than 75 percent of lawmakers.

Among the amendments that failed to pass on Wednesday were an NLD proposal to reduce the minimum age for the president from 45 to 40; and another that would have reduced the military’s dominance of the country’s most authoritative security body, the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), along with its power to take control during a state of emergency, while also making the Supreme Court indisputably the country’s highest legal authority. The Constitution currently places the Supreme Court under military courts-martial in terms of legal authority.

The NDSC includes the president, two vice presidents (one of whom is appointed by the military), both parliamentary speakers, the commander-in-chief and deputy commander-in-chief, the minister of foreign affairs and the military-appointed defense, home affairs and border affairs ministers.

The NLD suggested that the two deputy parliamentary speakers be added, as the current 11 members already include deputies such as vice presidents and the deputy commander-in-chief. It also sought to exclude the border affairs minister from the council. The proposals to amend the NDSC’s composition received approval from about 63 percent of lawmakers.

Meanwhile, a proposal submitted by the military and USDP lawmakers seeking to give broader powers to the military-dominated NDSC, including the power to call for the dissolution of Parliament, was also rejected. It received just 216 votes in favor, accounting for just over 33 percent of lawmakers.

The Union Parliament will continue voting on the remaining constitutional amendment proposals until March 20.

Htet Naing Zaw contributed reporting from Naypyitaw.

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