Suu Kyi tipped to take up foreign affairs post

Hundreds of demonstrators in Yangon on Sunday protesting against tweaking Myanmar's Constitution to allow Ms Suu Kyi to become the next head of state.
Hundreds of demonstrators in Yangon on Sunday protesting against tweaking Myanmar's Constitution to allow Ms Suu Kyi to become the next head of state.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Move will give her seat on key council, as deadline nears to name new president

Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, barred constitutionally from the country's top office, will take up the foreign affairs portfolio, reports quoting sources said as the deadline for announcing her party's candidate for president draws near.

The reports, which quoted sources in Ms Suu Kyi's ruling NLD and others, also said she would bide her time until the military is ready to amend the Constitution.

Analysts say Ms Suu Kyi becoming foreign minister is plausible as it would give her a seat on the National Defence and Security Council alongside the president, two vice-presidents, the commander-in-chief and deputy commander of the Burma Armed Forces, and army-appointed ministers for home affairs, border affairs and defence.

As foreign minister, she would also represent Myanmar internationally and at major summits together with the president.

Speculation over the make-up of the new NLD government, especially who will be the president, is reaching fever pitch. Some half a dozen names have been bandied about, including that of U Htin Kyaw, the son of a prominent intellectual and whose wife, Ms Su Su Lwin, is close to Ms Suu Kyi.

March 17 is the date for a vote in the new NLD-dominated Parliament to choose the president and his two deputies. But some reports are now saying that the vote may be brought forward.

Ms Suu Kyi cannot be president because Article 59(f) in the military-era Constitution bars a person whose parents, children or spouse are foreign citizens from the post. Her late husband was a British citizen, as are her two sons.

There have clearly been transition negotiations between the NLD and the government and army. Ms Suu Kyi has met the powerful commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, three times.

While some analysts assume there have also been discussions on suspending Article 59(f), many Myanmar watchers do not believe that this would happen any time soon. But Ms Suu Kyi as foreign minister would be a good bet.

However, there is some downside. Taking up an executive position would mean giving up party affairs, so the NLD would have to get a new leader. But analysts say that the new party leader would likely still take instructions from Ms Suu Kyi.

"The foreign minister position is good because it gives Suu Kyi a formal role with defined constitutional limits on what she can do, which will reassure the military," said a Myanmar-based analyst, who asked not to be identified.

"On the other hand, it's complicated. She'll be 'above' the president, whose Cabinet she sits in. She will have a huge number of procedural and protocol obligations," the analyst added.

It is nevertheless politically expedient to compromise with the powerful army at this stage, according to analysts. Speculation is that the NLD will wait two years before attempting to amend Article 59(f). 

Also, the military top brass are not the only ones reluctant to amend Article 59(f). In Yangon on Sunday, hundreds of nationalist Buddhist monks and students rallied in support of retaining it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Suu Kyi tipped to take up foreign affairs post'. Print Edition | Subscribe