Myanmar President vows charter changes

Mr Win Myint, seen here after taking his oath of office in Naypyitaw yesterday, said he would focus on the rule of law, national reconciliation and "amending the Constitution to build a democratic federal union".
Mr Win Myint, seen here after taking his oath of office in Naypyitaw yesterday, said he would focus on the rule of law, national reconciliation and "amending the Constitution to build a democratic federal union".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Move challenges army-written Constitution which bans Suu Kyi from country's top office

NAYPYITAW • Myanmar's new President yesterday promised to amend the country's army-written Constitution in his inaugural speech, challenging a charter that bans Ms Aung San Suu Kyi from the top office and gives the military major powers.

Mr Win Myint, a 66-year-old former political prisoner and a staunch ally of Ms Suu Kyi, was elected President on Wednesday after his predecessor suddenly resigned.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who championed Myanmar's emergence from junta rule by sweeping the country's 2015 election, is constitutionally barred from the presidency because she was married to a foreigner.

To circumvent that snag, her party - the National League for Democracy - created a new position for her called state counsellor - allowing Ms Suu Kyi to rule "above" the president.

That makes it vital for her to have a reliable proxy in office, especially as she manages the delicate power-sharing arrangement with the military, which ruled the country for almost half a century and remains enormously influential.

In his first address to Parliament, the famously straight-talking Mr Win Myint said he would focus on the rule of law, national reconciliation and "amending the Constitution to build a democratic federal union".

The three issues are touchstones of Ms Suu Kyi's party.

But talk of amendments to the 2008 charter is likely to raise hackles among the still-powerful generals. The army has ceded some power to the civilian administration, but keeps 25 per cent of parliamentary seats and total control of security affairs under the charter.

Mr Win Myint also said he would work to "protect human rights", a thorny subject in a country accused by the United Nations of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya Muslim population.

A violent military crackdown has forced some 700,000 Rohingya - a long-persecuted stateless minority - over the border into Bangladesh since last August.

The army insists the campaign was a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks against border guard police posts.

Mr Win Myint is part of Ms Suu Kyi's inner circle - the pair campaigned together during the 1988 democracy protests against the then junta, a movement that was violently suppressed.

For his role in the protests, Mr Win Myint, alongside many others, became a political prisoner.

Ms Suu Kyi is still widely regarded as a pro-democracy heroine in Myanmar, even though her reputation lies in tatters globally after she failed to speak up on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2018, with the headline 'Myanmar President vows charter changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe