Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is to take four ministerial positions in the new government, with the National League for Democracy intending to make up one-third of the proposed 18-member cabinet and hand key portfolios to allied politicians and technocrats.
A list of 18 proposed ministers read out to the Union parliament yesterday began with the name of the NLD leader, putting an end to months of speculation since last November’s elections over whether she would join the government she is barred by the constitution from leading, or remain outside the executive as an MP and head of the party.
The cabinet list submitted by President-elect U Htin Kyaw did not specify each minister’s portfolio. However what appeared to be a party memo posted on social media indicated that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would take four of a total of 21 ministerial positions – foreign affairs, education, electric power and energy, and head of the office of the president. She is the only woman listed in the cabinet.
NLD senior official and spokesperson U Win Htein confirmed last night that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would take the four posts.
“She will be the foreign minister mainly. If she wants to share the duties she has in other ministries with qualified people, she can assign them,” U Zaw Myint Maung, another party spokesperson, was quoted as saying by AFP.
As foreign minister, the NLD leader will also have a seat on a powerful 11-member security council where the military is in a majority.
On the list of 18 are three lieutenant generals appointed by the Tatmadaw as ministers of home affairs, defence and border affairs. The cabinet also includes six current NLD MPs, six technocrats, two members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, and the vice chair of the Mon National Party, Naing Thet Lwin, a wealthy businessman who appears destined to head the newly created ethnic affairs ministry.
With only one ethnic minority politician and one woman in the cabinet, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s line-up would appear to fall short of the “government of national reconciliation” she had promised.
U Kyaw Win, an NLD MP who has worked as a business consultant and bureaucrat, was expected to head Planning and Finance, one of the new mega-ministries to emerge from the government downsizing announced by the president-elect this week. In a first hint of controversy over the selection, he admitted last night that degrees listed on his official party profile were fake.
Significant in terms of power-sharing, the two USDP members named on the cabinet are close allies of former Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann who was ousted by hardliners as USDP chair last August in an internal party coup and has developed good relations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I think U Shwe Mann’s support is one of the reasons for my selection,” said U Thein Swe, a USDP MP chosen as minister of labour, immigration and population.
The appointment of a former member of the military junta – U Thein Swe served as minister for transport under then-senior general U Than Shwe – to this key portfolio is certain to come under international scrutiny for the ministry’s role in resolving the citizenship issue hanging over the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State.
Former USDP MP Thura U Aung Ko also made it on the list and as former deputy minister for religion he appeared set to head the newly merged Ministry of Religion and Culture.
U Pe Myint, a noted writer, appears lined up for minister of information, with decisions needed to be taken on the future of state-owned newspapers and liberalisation of the broadcasting sector.
MPs welcomed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to take a post in the government to be headed by her proxy president, even though under the country’s complex rules on division of powers established by the former junta she will be required to renounce her seat in parliament as well as leadership of the NLD and party activities.
U Ko Ko Naing, a USDP lawmaker and also an ally of Thura U Shwe Mann, was positive about the line-up.
“If she takes the position of minister for the presidential office, then she could work closely together with the president and vice presidents. If she takes the position of the foreign minister, she would have a chance to participate in the National Defence and Security Council,” he said.
MPs from ethnic minority parties also welcomed the developments.
Daw Chin Ngaik Man of the Zomi Congress for Democracy said she believes the new NLD-led government would make better progress in the peace process.
“The formation of the ethnic affairs ministry is very good. I hope national reconciliation would be built better by the new government among ethnic people, including Bamar. I hope the loss of ethnic rights should be restored in the conflict-torn areas of the country,” she said.
U Hla Moe, a medical doctor and MP for Aung Myay Tharzan township of Mandalay, said his leader had prepared the party for her absence over the next five years by handing over the leadership to senior members.
“She has already set a good foundation and principles for the party and the party will go on its course more quickly,” he said. “There is no need to worry for the party.”
U Ko Ko Naing said that practically speaking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can still play a role in party activities without a danger of impeachment.
“She can still control party activities somehow by taking a behind-the-scenes role. As the parliament has an NLD majority, there is no possibility of impeaching her even if she would publicly attend party events,” he said.
However U Win Htein said the secretariat formed last month made up of himself, U Zaw Myint Maung, U Nyan Win, U Han Thar Myint and U Win Myint will take the leadership role in the party,
Daw Khin Saw Wai of the Arakan National Party said, “I’m very glad to see such a cabinet team which could lead to national reconciliation. The decision of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to lead Foreign Affairs implies she will not play a role in party activities, but we will wait and see the way she decides to go.”
While some commentators asked how and why Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would cope with four ministerial positions, MPs unaccustomed to questioning their leader seemed to think this would be no problem and that a division of responsibilities with other officials could be worked out later if necessary.
Political analyst U Sithu Aung Myint said the NLD leader would face challenges in dealing with major issues left unresolved by the outgoing government, such as unpopular energy projects that were agreed with Chinese companies and then suspended.
“But she will lead these sensitive ministries courageously. This is a good leader,” he said.