Ye Htut’s Take on 59(f) Criticized as Conjecture over Presidency Rolls On

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 20 February 2016

RANGOON — Until March 17, when the Union Parliament is finally scheduled to consider nominations for Burma’s next president, speculation will continue as to possible contenders and, more specifically, whether Aung San Suu Kyi will be among them.

With the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman constitutionally barred from the role, supporters continue to hold out hope, however faint, that the offending clause, Article 59(f), may somehow be sidestepped.

The article in part bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from assuming the presidency, disqualifying Suu Kyi as her two children are British nationals, as was her late husband.

As negotiations between the NLD and the military continue behind closed doors, one notion first floated late last year centers on the possible suspension of the clause. Opinions are divided on whether this has currency, with several military representatives expressing their opposition to such a move.

Burma’s outgoing information minister Ye Htut had a different take on the much-debated issue when speaking to Voice of America this week.

“In my point of view, if her two sons and their spouses seek Burmese citizenship, everything will be alright. If her children want her to become the president, all they have to do is apply for citizenship according to the 1982 Citizenship Law,” Ye Htut told VOA on Tuesday.

Asked if it was fair to suggest that Suu Kyi’s children renounce their British citizenship, Ye Htut replied: “If they don’t want to live in a country their mum governs or seek citizenship [of that country], it’s their family matter, not a constitutional problem.”

In fact Ye Htut’s suggestion—the sincerity of which may be questionable—has been referred to by Suu Kyi herself in the past, including during a rally for constitutional change in mid-2014.

“Some suggested that I could be president if my two sons seek Burmese citizenship,” Suu Kyi said at the rally in Pakokku, Magwe Division. “Let me say this: it doesn’t matter whether I become president or not. We want to change it as it is not fair from a legal point of view.”

Suu Kyi explained that her two sons were registered as Burmese citizens when they were born, a classification revoked by the military regime following the nationwide pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

“What I don’t like about the clause is that it is trying to bar someone if their children or relatives are foreigners. I don’t care about being the president or not,” the pro-democracy leader told supporters.

The NLD’s Tun Tun Hein was quick to criticize Ye Htut’s comments on the matter this week, labeling them “flippant” in an interview with the Myanmar Times.

“If we carefully read the constitution’s section 59(f), its limitation includes even the spouses of the daughters and sons of the president. And the citizenship application is not an easy process in such a situation,” the NLD central committee member, told the Myanmar Times on Friday.

Khin Zaw Win of the Tampadipa Institute think-tank said the NLD should be wary of suspending the clause, given the military’s apparent reticence.

“They should explore legally liable alternatives, including something like reinstating her children’s citizenship, rather than rushing ahead—that could lead to a constitutional crisis as the 25 percent of military representatives in the Parliament will have final say on the issue,” he said.

For newly minted NLD lawmaker Nay Phone Latt, whether Suu Kyi formally leads the country is immaterial.

“She has already said she will be ‘above the president,’” he said. “Amending or suspending the clause is something that is uncertain. But what is sure is that she will lead the government.”