Suu Kyi speeds up presidential selection

Uniformed military MPs (far side) are becoming uncomfortable with the new dominant force in parliament. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi is set to speed up the presidential selection, in a last-minute change following weeks of talks with the military that has stood by its 2008 constitution that blocks her from becoming head of state.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) which now dominates the parliament is apparently due to change the date of the MPs’ presidential voting, previously set for March 17.

NLD parliamentarians said the party was likely to speed up the vote to end weeks of talks between the military and Suu Kyi’s team over whether the junta-drafted constitution, which bars Suu Kyi from becoming president, should be changed.

Section 59(F) of the constitution bars anyone with foreign children (Suu Kyi’s two sons are British citizens) from becoming president. Constitutional change requires 75-per-cent approval in parliament but 25 per cent of the seats are set aside for uniformed military representatives who have an effective veto. The NLD secured around 80 per cent of contested seats in parliament in the November 8 election.

Yangon saw hundreds of demonstrators protest against the proposed constitutional change.

About 350 Buddhist nationalists gathered wearing white-shirts bearing the slogan “We support Section 59 for the country’s future.”

“Someone who chooses his or her spouse without emphasising the culture and religion of the country should never become the head of the state,” said lawyer Win Paing, one of the organisers.

“Please stop any effort against the will of the Myanmar army,” Win Ko Ko Lat of the Myanmar National Affairs Network, which organised the protest, told supporters. “We don’t want a military coup again.”

The demonstrators said they would never accept the suspension or amendment of a constitutional clause for the benefit of a specific person or organisation.

“We support this event … because we don’t want outsiders, foreigners, overwhelming our country,” said organiser Thant Myo Oo. “Not only Suu Kyi, whoever is connected with the outsiders, we cannot accept.”

Suu Kyi’s government is due to take power on April 1, meaning there was plenty of time for the new president to bed in before assuming office. However, the intractable nature of the generals has meant that Suu Kyi moved to speed up the vote to gain time to prepare for government, analysts say.

“It’s become clear that amendment of Section 59(F) is impossible. So they want the presidential nomination to happen earlier so that they can take more time in handling cabinet formation,” said political analyst Yan Myo Thein.

Analysts are pointing towards the lack of cooperation from the outgoing government of President Thein Sein.

Last week, the NLD criticised the military and the quasi-civilian Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which lost heavily in November, over a controversial copper mine project run as a joint venture between a Chinese weapons manufacturer and the military. It also called for an urgent block on the sale of state-owned land, businesses and other assets in the outgoing administration’s final days.

In an unusual show of engagement with the political process, the military representatives stood, to mark their disapproval of the NLD’s claims about government corruption and the party’s Speaker who allegedly refused to allow them to speak.

“The present government is responsible only to the previous parliament that formed it,” said Thein Sein’s spokesman, Ye Htut, in support of ministers who refused to come to parliament to face questioning by the NLD.