Thein Sein seeks more power for army-run ministry

YANGON • Myanmar's outgoing army-backed President has asked Parliament to extend the powers of the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry by giving it control over immigration, officials said yesterday.

The surprise move comes just days before the military-dominated Parliament hands over to a legislature led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), as the balance of power in the country begins to tilt partially away from the army for the first time in generations.

Presidential Office director Zaw Htay said Mr Thein Sein had decided "to combine the ministry of immigration and population and ministry of home affairs" and had written to Parliament asking for its approval.

It is expected to be discussed in the legislature today.

If approved, the proposal would add significantly to the military's power even under an NLD government.

That is because the junta-drafted Constitution puts the three major ministries of home affairs, border affairs and defence under army control.

Home affairs is already a ministerial juggernaut, with control over the police and huge swathes of the bureaucracy.

Ms Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing held closed-door discussions in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday, the second such talks between the pair since the NLD won a huge victory in landmark November elections.

Observers see a rapprochement between Ms Suu Kyi, 70, and the military as crucial to ensuring the delicate political handover stays on track as the new Parliament prepares to select a president to replace Mr Thein Sein in late March.

Mr Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government replaced outright army rule in 2011, and has spearheaded political and economic reforms, opening the long-cloistered nation to the world.

But Ms Suu Kyi remains barred from top political office under the junta-era Constitution because she married and had children with a foreigner.

It is unclear whether the new NLD government would support a move that would augment the military's still substantial political influence, which also includes a reserved quarter of all seats in Parliament and an effective veto on constitutional change.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Thein Sein seeks more power for army-run ministry'. Print Edition | Subscribe