NLD seeks to create 'super minister' post for Suu Kyi

Ms Suu Kyi being welcomed by new Myanmar President Htin Kyaw at a dinner reception after a swearing-in ceremony in Naypyitaw on Wednesday. The NLD has introduced a Bill seeking to create a high-ranking post for Ms Suu Kyi. The party also wants to ame
Ms Suu Kyi being welcomed by new Myanmar President Htin Kyaw at a dinner reception after a swearing-in ceremony in Naypyitaw on Wednesday. The NLD has introduced a Bill seeking to create a high-ranking post for Ms Suu Kyi. The party also wants to amend the Constitution, but cannot do so without the military's approval.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

'State Counsellor' position would elevate her role and circumvent the ban on her being president

Myanmar's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) has introduced a Bill in Parliament on its first day in power, seeking to create a high-ranking position for party leader and newly minted Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi.

The position is best translated as "State Counsellor", analysts say.

It specifically names Ms Suu Kyi, who was thwarted from the presidency under a clause in the junta- era Constitution that bans those with foreign family links from the post. Her late husband and two sons are British citizens.

Ms Suu Kyi saw her long-time friend, Mr Htin Kyaw, sworn in as President on Wednesday along with the rest of the Cabinet, in which she assumed four major portfolios - foreign affairs, electric power and energy, education and Minister of the President's Office.

But she had maintained even before the election in November last year - which the NLD eventually won by a landslide - that if the party won, she would be "above the president".

The role of the "State Counsellor" would be to provide advice for the state in the citizens' interests within the framework of the Constitution. The position will be given a budget.

Ms Suu Kyi's Cabinet portfolios already give her wide-ranging power - she has access to the President's ear officially as Minister of the President's Office.

Under the 2008 Constitution, she will have to give up her seat in the House of Representatives - which she has held since 2012 - now that she is a Cabinet minister.

But the new position would create a bridge for Ms Suu Kyi between the executive branch and the legislature, turning her into a "super minister" similar to a prime minister in some systems. It would both elevate her role and further circumvent the ban on her being president.

Parliament will debate the Bill today and may even vote on it. The NLD, with its majority, can easily get it approved.

The military has so far not reacted, but military Members of Parliament did not object yesterday to the motion admitting the Bill and proposing a debate.

The NLD wants to go further and amend the Constitution, but cannot do so without the military's acquiescence. The armed forces still has 25 per cent of Parliament seats - in effect, a veto on constitutional amendments.

Some analysts have questioned if Ms Suu Kyi will be able to handle the load of multiple portfolios. Earlier this week though, an NLD official was quoted in reports as saying the 70-year-old may not keep them all.

The Constitution also states that if a government minister is from a political party, he or she must cease involvement in party activities.

But Ms Suu Kyi is unlikely to neglect her party and would still lead it. NLD spokesman Zaw Myint Maung was quoted by online journal The Irrawaddy on Wednesday as saying: "She will no longer be involved in the party's activities, but she will be still the party leader."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'NLD seeks to create 'super minister' post for Suu Kyi'. Print Edition | Subscribe