A declaration by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that she intends to lead the next government if she wins at the polls next month – despite being barred from the presidency – has triggered fierce debate over the implications of her intentions, which were also seen as throwing down a gauntlet to the military.
In an interview broadcast by the India Today television channel on October 7, the 70-year-old leader of the National League for Democracy said, “If the NLD wins the elections and we form a government, I’m going to be the leader of that government whether or not I’m the president.”
“Why not? Should you have to be president to lead a country?” she added.
The 2008 constitution drawn up by the military junta before it handed some powers to a quasi-civilian government in 2010 effectively bars the NLD leader from the presidency because her children are foreign nationals. The president is selected by parliament and forms a government, but with some important exceptions.
The office of President U Thein Sein, as well as the military, chose not to react to her comments, but politicians, commentators and her own party waded in.
U Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, noted that the NLD will only be able to nominate the president if the party ends up with more than 50 percent of the seats in parliament, where 25pc are already allocated to the military. But he believes the election is stacked against her and she would choose the path of negotiations and could aim for a coalition to include the ruling USDP, the military and ethnic parties.
Ko Jimmy, a leader of 88 Generation, said he believed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would have the power of “spiritual influence” over the next president. “She will have the power given by the people so she will have influence over the government,” he added.
Ethnic politicians, who might end up holding the balance of power in parliament between the two national parties, criticised her outburst.
U Sai Nyont Lwin, secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said her words would not help her party or the country, and would make her more vulnerable to attack.
“I don’t know why she said this at this time. It won’t do her any good,” he said.
NLD spokesperson U Win Htein defended her stance and pointed to her unchallenged authority in the party. “She manages every important decision in the party, so she will lead a government of the party. Whoever is called president, she will manage that person,” he said.
He said that with an NLD victory the president would have to follow party policy and that her command over a future government would be more effective in amending the constitution. But he also said it was too early to tell how the next government and military would negotiate a way forward.
U Kyi Myint, a high-court lawyer, pointed out that the NLD leader would have problems running a government because the 2008 constitution gives control of three important ministries – interior, defence and border affairs – to the military, while ex-military officers dominate nearly all government departments.
Besides those constraints, U Kyi Myint added that she had failed to prepare alliances with the main ethnic groups or other pro-democracy forces. Such mistakes did not bode well for a government led by the NLD, he said.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also said in her interview that the constitution would have to change to allow civilian authorities to have democratic authority over the armed forces. “I am sure they won’t like it. I don’t expect them to like it,” she said. “But I do believe there are many members of the army who want what is best for the country, and if we can agree with one another what would be best for the country, we can come to some arrangement.”