Tuesday, July 25, 2017

NLD blasts U Ye Htut’s comments on presidency bid

Supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday reacted strongly to comments by Minister for Information U Ye Htut seemingly quashing efforts by the National League of Democracy to appoint its leader as president.

U Ye Htut speaks to the media during a press conference on “New Dynamics in Myanmar Media” at Chatrium in Yangon on December 10, 2015. Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesU Ye Htut speaks to the media during a press conference on “New Dynamics in Myanmar Media” at Chatrium in Yangon on December 10, 2015. Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

In an interview with Voice of America during an ASEAN gathering hosted by President Barack Obama in California, U Ye Htut said the outgoing military-backed government was opposed to any attempt to “suspend” article 59(f) of the constitution which bars the NLD leader from the presidency because her sons are foreign nationals.

It was the first time that a senior government figure had expressly ruled out such a move, which NLD MPs have said they are considering in parliament.

In his interview, carried by state media yesterday, the minister also said, “If the two sons want their mother to become president, they and their wives can apply for Myanmar citizenship according to the 1982 Immigration Law. This is in fact their family matter.”

U Tun Tun Hein, an NLD central executive committee member, called the comments highly inappropriate.

“If we carefully read the constitution’s section 59(f), its limitation includes even the spouses of the daughters and sons of the president. And the citizenship application is not an easy process in such a situation,” he said.

“U Ye Htut was making a flippant comment,” he added.

Amending the constitution involves a lengthy process and would also require military support, as the Tatmadaw retains a veto over changes to the charter. NLD MPs, backed by the party’s legal advisers, have been considering an attempt to use a simple majority to “suspend” 59(f) so that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can succeed U Thein Sein when his five-year term ends on March 30.

U Ye Htut said the constitution had no provisions to suspend an article. “What I am talking about is that we’re against the suspension of article 59(f),” he was quoted as saying.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on February 17 for their third round of power-sharing talks since the NLD’s sweeping election victory last November. It is not known if they discussed the constitutional issue or the alternative of her nominating a proxy.

She has not publicly commented on suspending a section of the constitution, but has previously said she would rule “above” the president.

Parliament has set March 17 as the deadline for the two chambers and the military bloc to name their respective candidates.

U Ko Ni, a Supreme Court advocate who has led the legal argument for suspending article 59(f), blasted U Ye Htut’s comments.

“The comments are too unreasonable. That is a personal affair not related to the constitutional matter,” he said of the citizenship of her two sons by her late British husband. He pointed out that 59(f) was drafted by the former military junta with the express intention of barring her from the presidency.

U Ko Ni said the military’s intention was simply to block her path to the presidency.

“In fact, the two sons were once Myanmar citizens. When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest in 1989, they withdrew the citizenship of the two sons,” he said.

“It is not the desire of the two sons but of more than 50 million citizens of the country that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi becomes president,” U Ko Ni added.

He also noted that no such limitations on presidential qualifications were included in the 1947 and 1974 constitutions.

U Ko Ni, who had been among Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal advisors, said he was no longer connected to the NLD. He did not elaborate.