Myanmar transition set, but president unlikely to be Suu Kyi

(AP) — Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s decades-long battle to bring democracy to Myanmar is likely to come to fruition on Thursday — but with a whimper rather than a bang.

Despite leading her party to a smashing election victory last year, Suu Kyi most likely will not become her country’s leader, thanks to a constitutional barrier.

This means that after years of struggle and sacrifice by Suu Kyi and her legions of followers, it will be as much an anticlimax as a historical watershed when her National League for Democracy party takes over the reins of government April 1 from the military-backed party that’s been in power since 2011.

The identity of the new president will, however, become known Thursday, when the upper and lower houses of parliament and the military bloc that holds a constitutionally mandated 25 percent of seats nominate one candidate each. Members of parliament will then vote later this month to elect one of them president, while the other two will become vice presidents.

The long delay between the November elections and the appointments has made the guessing game of who will become president into something of a national pastime among a public giddy with the coming of a freely elected civilian government after more than 50 years of military rule.

“Most people are so interested in this,” said Chit Win, a 61-year-old Naypyitaw resident. “We will finally know for sure on the 10th!”

The president is certain to be from Suu Kyi’s party since it holds majorities in both chambers of parliament, giving it the right to make two nominations, as well as the numbers to pick the winner.

Suu Kyi, 70, cannot be president because the constitution bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from holding the executive office. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British, as was her late husband.

No problem, Suu Kyi said after her party’s massive election victory in November. She made it clear that she would be the one pulling the strings in the new government. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner explained what she meant in an interview with the BBC two days after the election.

“Well, I’ll make all the decisions, it’s as simple as all that,” she said, dismissing constitutional requirements as a technicality “that won’t stop me from making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party.”

“The president will be told exactly what he can do,” she said the same day in an interview with Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia.

Political analyst Toe Kyaw Hlaing predicted that the people won’t have a problem with that arrangement.

“The public voted for change, so now the public wants a pure civilian president,” he told The Associated Press. “So when the civilian president comes to power, I think the public will support him, and the public may not care whether he is a proxy president or not.”

The terms that Suu Kyi has laid out for the new president indicate that personal loyalty to her will be a key attribute. Suu Kyi has few strong-willed, charismatic colleagues in her party, anyway.

Several people fit the bill:

— At the top of the list is Htin Kyaw, an executive with an educational charity foundation named for Suu Kyi’s mother. The 70-year-old Oxford graduate has impressive family connections. His father was a national poet and a National League for Democracy lawmaker from an aborted 1990 election, while his wife is a prominent legislator for the party in the current house. His father-in-law, a former army colonel, was a co-founder of the NLD.

— Dr. Tin Myo Win, 64, Suu Kyi’s personal physician. A veteran party member, he was one of the few people allowed to visit her during her various periods of house arrest under military rule.

— Dr. Tin Mar Aung, Suu Kyi’s personal assistant and also a physician. She is seen constantly by Suu Kyi’s side, and Suu Kyi is believed to want at least the vice president’s post to be held by a woman or an ethnic minority.

— Tin Oo, 89, a former army general who was an early NLD executive. Although he has disavowed interest in the job, Tin Oo also is the sort of loyalist who meets the job requirements. Tin Oo has publicly battled side-by-side with Suu Kyi since the party’s founding.

— Other names being floated include Aung Tun Thet, an economist who served as an adviser to outgoing President Thein Sein, and Aung Kyi Nyunt, a 65-year-old lawyer who is an NLD member of the lower house of parliament.


Peck reported from Bangkok.



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