Aung San Suu Kyi may take up multiple roles in new Myanmar government

National League for Democracy party leader Ms Suu Kyi (centre) arriving at Parliament in Naypyitaw on March 15. She is tipped to take the Foreign Affairs, President's Office, Education and Energy ministries.
National League for Democracy party leader Ms Suu Kyi (centre) arriving at Parliament in Naypyitaw on March 15. She is tipped to take the Foreign Affairs, President's Office, Education and Energy ministries.PHOTO: REUTERS

Portfolios will give her far-reaching power in Cabinet despite not being president

Seventy-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi will assume up to three or four Cabinet portfolios in Myanmar's new government, giving her wide powers in addition to a hand-picked president who is a trusted friend.

She herself is blocked from the presidency under the junta-era Constitution, which bars people with foreign family links from the post - her two sons are British citizens.

It was not clear which portfolio Ms Suu Kyi would take. A list of 18 proposed names were read out in Parliament yesterday morning, but not their proposed portfolios. There are 21 ministries and Ms Suu Kyi is the only woman on the Cabinet list.

National League for Democracy (NLD) officials said she would take the foreign affairs portfolio. But in a list circulating on social media, Ms Suu Kyi was tipped to take the Foreign Affairs, President's Office, Education and Energy ministries.

NLD spokesman Zaw Myint Maung told Agence France-Presse that Ms Suu Kyi would "mainly" be foreign minister. Holding the foreign portfolio would put her on the National Defence and Security Council with the president, two vice-presidents and the chief of the armed forces. It would give her representation internationally too.

The President's Office portfolio offers the position of a super minister, somewhat like current President Thein Sein's ministers, Mr Soe Thane and Mr Aung Min, who have worked as wide-ranging negotiators and troubleshooters with the ear of the President.

  • KEY CABINET CANDIDATES

  • • Dr Than Myint, 72, tipped to be minister of commerce and trade, is a National League for Democracy (NLD) member of Parliament (MP) from Yangon. He studied in Yangon, the United States and South Africa and is a former project director in the Ministry of Finance and worked with UN organisations in India, Malawi  and the UAE.

    • Dr U Kyaw Win, 68, tipped for the Ministry of National Planning and Finance, is also an NLD MP from Yangon. He studied in Yangon and also has a degree from an American university. He worked in the Tax Department until 1997 and then became a member of the NLD's Economic Policy Committee.

    • Dr Aung Thu, 61, tipped to be minister of agriculture, livestock and irrigation, is also an NLD MP from Yangon. A former lecturer at and rector of Yangon University, he recently retired to join the NLD.

    • Thura U Aung Ko, 67, a former general tipped for the Ministry of Culture and Religion, is a deputy minister in the same ministry, from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) - which is in opposition in Parliament. "Thura" is a military honour meaning "great hero".

    • Mr Thein Swe, 67, is a USDP MP from Rakhine state and a former general and chief of military training. He was a minister in the Prime Minister's Office and also minister of transport in the erstwhile military regime from 2003 to 2010.

Following the NLD's sweeping victory in the general election last November, Ms Suu Kyi raised some eyebrows by saying she would be "above the president".

But President-elect U Htin Kyaw is a family friend going back to their parents' generation - which would help make the relationship seamless, analysts say.

Members of Parliament are to vote on the Cabinet nominees this week, possibly tomorrow. 

 The NLD, which has reduced the number of government ministries from 36 to 21 in an effort to streamline the administration, has emphasised national reconciliation, and at least two members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which crashed badly in the elections, were on the list - Mr Thura Aung Ko, former deputy minister for religious affairs, and Mr Thein Swe, a former minister for transport. Also named were Mr Sein Win, Mr Kyaw Swe and Mr Ye Aung, all three reportedly lieutenant-generals, who are expected to take the three ministerial positions appointed by the armed forces chief - Home, Defence and Border Affairs.

Mr Nai Thet Lwin, a 76-year-old ethnic Mon and vice-chairman of the Mon National Party, is on the list and expected to take the newly created Ministry of Ethnic Affairs - a critical role, given the powerful army is still at war with a number of armed groups.

Consultancy firm Vriens & Partners' managing director in Myanmar, Mr Nyantha Maw Lin, wrote in an e-mail: "There is nothing surprising about (Ms Suu Kyi's) assumption of a far-reaching role in the Cabinet. The executive is where the reins of power lie.

"Early indications are that she will take up more than one ministership. This will allow her to create a de facto head of government role for herself, and leave the head of state role to President-elect Htin Kyaw.''

Two analysts, who asked not to be named, warned of "bottlenecks", especially with no deputy ministers to distribute work to. 

Mr Nyantha Maw Lin acknowledged "some doubts have been expressed as to her abilities to oversee multiple ministries". But he said: "I would only note that she can still develop the next line of management, as any head of government would. Only in this case, it would have to be the deputy ministers or some form of technical or management team.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Suu Kyi may take up multiple roles in new Myanmar govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe