Parliament confirmed yesterday that the presidential nomination deadline will be brought forward one week to March 10, in a move widely seen as a concession from the National League for Democracy that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will not be Myanmar’s next president.
The party appeared to enter damage-control mode, with National League for Democracy spokesperson U Win Htein insisting that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would still be president “sooner or later”.
The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw had initially set March 17 as the deadline for the Pyithu Hluttaw, the Amyotha Hluttaw and the military to each put forward presidential nominees. The date was significantly later than previously anticipated – just two weeks before the next government takes office – and was seen as an attempt to buy more time for negotiations with the military aimed at making Daw Aung San Suu Kyi president.
Sources within the NLD said events in recent weeks have made clear that the military is unwilling to consider amendment or suspension of section 59(f), which bars Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency. A lengthy, third meeting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on February 17 was tense and ended without any major agreement.
As The Myanmar Times reported on February 26, the party will instead revert to its original plan of nominating a proxy president. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take another position within the government, most likely foreign minister, which would give her a seat on the National Defence and Security Council, though it would also require her to step down from party activities.
But U Win Htein yesterday told reporters that changing the presidential nomination date does not rule out the possibility of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi taking up the office.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must be president sooner or later,” he said “[This issue] is not related to whether the date is changed or not. Think for yourself, read the constitution and the by-laws. It will happen. [We] are working to make it happen.”
How soon a power-sharing agreement could be reached with the military to enable the NLD leader to hold the top office is another question, however.
Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein said he does not see a way that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could become the presidential nominee this month.
Parliament will take a short break from March 2 to 6. The break is believed in part to be aimed at defusing tensions that erupted last week between the NLD, the government and the military over a spate of controversial privatisations and tenders.
In an effort to avoid further confrontation with the military prior to the handover, Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker U Win Myint has instructed MPs from the NLD and allied ethnic parties to “stay away” from sensitive issues that “could deviate from the peaceful transfer of power”.
Parliament will resume on March 7, when it will start meeting for presidential nominations.
“How can they amend or suspend article 59(f) within three days?” said U Yan Myo Thein. “It is clear that it is impossible for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to become president right now.”
Regarding U Win Htein’s promise that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be president, U Yan Myo Thein said he understood “sooner or later” to mean “it could take two, three or even another five years”.
He added that despite enduring junta rule for decades, the public must show further patience and wait until the military agrees to constitutional reform. Over the weekend, nationalists suggested that pushing through amendments without the backing of the defence services could prompt a coup.
In an interview with The Washington Post shortly after the election, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said he was willing to work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but that transferring power to civilian control must be “gradual”, allowing for a “mature and stable situation political situation in our country”.
U Yan Myo Thein said that accelerating the presidential nomination date would allow a lengthier period for negotiating the make-up of the cabinet.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won about 80 percent of the parliamentary seats up for grabs in the November 8, 2015, election. The exact date of the transition is unclear. The outgoing government has agreed to a handover ceremony on March 30, but state media yesterday referred to the new government taking office on April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
“There is no country in the world which takes so long to transfer power,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said during a meeting with ethnic parliamentarians yesterday. “We are on the top of the list for lengthy handovers. No other country takes five months.”