Suu Kyi faces down military MPs

Myanmar’s Lower House with the military representatives visible in olive tan at the far end. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar’s military representatives in Parliament have clashed with the new democratic government over a bill to create a powerful new prime-ministerial role for Aung San Suu Kyi.

The appointed uniformed MPs refused to take part in a lower house vote on the bill.

The bill creates a tailor-made state counsellor position for Suu Kyi to work in both in the executive and legislative branches of government. It passed both houses but raised tension between the military representatives and Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

“The term ‘state counsellor’ in the name of the bill is tantamount to mean that he or she can exercise both the executive and legislative powers, therefore it is against the constitutional provisions,” said lower house military MP Brigadier General Maung Maung.

At the end of the parliamentary session, military MPs stood in protest against the bill’s passage.

Similar concerns were heard from military upper house MPs where the bill originated.

Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president under the military-drafted 2008 constitution because her of the British nationality of her children and late husband.

She had said she would govern from “above the president” and now appears to be putting the pledge into action.

Under the constitution, the military holds 25 per cent of parliamentary seats and three key ministries: home affairs, defence and border security.

The “state-counsellor” bill will become law when President Htin Kyaw, a handpicked friend of Suu Kyi, signs it.

Earlier, parliament approved two new cabinet ministers after Suu Kyi, who originally took four cabinet positions, relinquished the ministries of energy and education. She retains the foreign affairs and president’s office portfolios.

Myo Then Gyi, a former rector of the University of West Yangon, was named education minister.

Pe Zin Tun, a civil servant who served in the energy ministry under the previous, quasi-civilian administration, will lead the reorganised Ministry of Energy and Electric Power.

Suu Kyi’s first official meeting as foreign minister was with Beijing’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, on Tuesday.

China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and was the main ally of the former military government. It has come under criticism for giant, allegedly environmentally unsound projects in Myanmar like fuel pipelines, mega-dams, jade mines and a large copper mine in the centre of the country where a protester was gunned down last year.

Wang congratulated his hosts in their transition to civilian rule and added that the Chinese would work only on projects that were beneficial to both neighbours.