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In Myanmar, Rumors Swirl of Possible Aung San Suu Kyi Presidency

  • Katie Arnold

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, walks along with lawmakers of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to attend the inauguration session of Union Parliament, Feb. 8, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, walks along with lawmakers of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to attend the inauguration session of Union Parliament, Feb. 8, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

There is growing speculation in Myanmar that long time opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could become the country’s next president, following an announcement that nominations for the office won’t be revealed until the middle of next month (March 17).

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party — the National League for Democracy (NLD) — won an overwhelming victory in last year's general election, but she is constitutionally barred from the presidency under Article 59 (f), which prohibits anyone with children holding foreign citizenship from the nation’s top position.

The president and vice presidents will be elected by the Union parliament before the next government begins their term on the April 1. The lower house, upper house and military each select a candidate for the three positions, who then compete to become president.

The nominations were expected this month and political observers suspect that the announcement has been delayed in order to create space for continuing negotiations between Aung San Su Kyi and the military.

She has held several meetings with Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing about the structure of the next government, according to reports, including a possible deal to put her in the president’s seat.

Late Sunday, simultaneous reports by pro-government news broadcasters said “positive results could come out of the negotiation for the suspension of the constitution Article 59 [f]”fueling suspicions further.

Parliament chairman Mann Win Khaing Than, right, walks to attend the inauguration session of Union Parliament, Feb. 8, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Parliament chairman Mann Win Khaing Than, right, walks to attend the inauguration session of Union Parliament, Feb. 8, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Speculation

But neither the NLD nor military have released official statements about the negotiations. Most members of parliament contacted by VOA have said they have been told not to talk about the matter.

Khin Zaw Win, a political analyst at the Tampadipa Institute, has accused the NLD of ‘feeding the rumor mill’ by placing a gag order on its MPs. He also described the new parliament as ‘a scene from a traffic accident’, with large cordons separating the new lawmakers from members of the public and media.

A senior NLD insider, who asked not to be named, has told VOA not to expect Aung San Suu Kyi’s name on the ballot sheet next month.

“There have been developments, but it will take time. Even if the military does agree, there is a legal process that we have to follow so when it comes to next month’s announcement, you will not see her be named as president,” the source said.

Tom Lambert from Andaman Research and Advisory, agrees that the reports and rumors swirling around Myanmar deserve caution.

“Nothing the military has said, done, or implied suggests that they have shifted their position that having Aung San Suu Kyi as president is a red-line they are willing to cross. Until we know the content of Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi’s discussions, all rumors are suspect and should be treated extremely carefully.”

Myanmar lawmakers gather after a regular session of the lower house of parliament, Feb 1, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Feb. 1, 2016.

Myanmar lawmakers gather after a regular session of the lower house of parliament, Feb 1, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Feb. 1, 2016.

Concessions

A permanent amendment to the constitution must be approved by at least 75 percent of both houses of parliament before going to a national referendum. The military has reserved 25 percent of seats in the legislature, which means the NLD cannot push through the amendment without the backing of the army.

To win support from the military would require concessions. Last week, a local paper claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi may give chief ministerial positions to the military — on top of the three that are already reserved for them according to the constitution.

Observers say if true, it is an offer the military may accept.

“The military have really felt the weight of the election result. The USDP is almost finished as the political arm of the military and they will be open to new offers that will protect their political position.” said Khin Zaw Win.

But for now, most of Myanmar must wait while the NLD and the military hold their discussions behind closed doors.

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