Unrealistic optimism for Myanmar’s Suu Kyi

Unrealistic optimism for Myanmar’s Suu Kyi

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By Nava Thakuria
As Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) approaches for its next national elections, which emerges as the most important polls since the southeast Asian country was put under military dictatorship in 1962, speculations now rises high over the probable future role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the quasi-democratic nation. For the international community, Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, 70, raises hope for a convincing political role in poverty-stricken country, but the ground reality still remains grim for the charismatic Burmese opposition leader.Expectations of being the executive President of Myanmar (who heads both the State & the government) seem to be diminishing for the diligent democracy campaigner, who leads the influential opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD). The feasible position for Suu Kyi, who happens to be the daughter of Burma’s most popular independence struggle hero General Aung San, in post-poll scenario lingers with the post of vice-President (Speaker of lower house of Myanmar Parliament) or the foreign minister at the most.
The NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 general elections, which were largely free & fair, but the brutal and isolationist military regime did not recognize the voters’ mandate and refused to hand over power to the elected representatives. The head of the regime Senior General Than Shwe, who grew enmity towards Suu Kyi, even ordered brutal crack downs over NLD activists. Subsequently Suu Kyi was also put under house arrest as a political prisoner for years.
After 15 years of house arrest, Suu Kyi was released, but her party was not allowed to participate in the last polls for lower house of Myanmar Parliament that took place in 2010. The military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) swept the polls. The present President Thein Sein also came to the scene in place of Than Shwe and the reform process started gaining momentum. The media was also freed from censorship. Lastly the NLD participated in 2012 Parliamentary by-elections, where it won 43 seats (including Suu Kyi) out of 45 contested constituencies.
“Whatever the speculation possessed by the Myanmar people or the international community, Suu Kyi can not be the President with the present political structure in Myanmar. I believe both Suu Kyi and the NLD supporters have realized the situation that until there is a miracle, no hope for her to replace President Then Sein immediately,” said Khin Maung Win, a political commentator from Yangon (formerly Rangoon).
Win, who is associated with Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB)- a media organisation run by Burmese expatriates, elaborated that even an overwhelm success for NLD candidates in November 8 general elections can never realize over 75% seats for the opposition party.
No need to mention that the Myanmar 2008 Constitution reserves 25% of seats in both houses of Myanmar Parliament and also Legislative Assemblies in seven provinces for military candidates. Thus the constitution ensures at least one vice-President for the ‘men in uniform’. Moreover, any amendment to the constitution needs to be supported by more than 75 percent Parliamentarians, which is unlikely unless there emerges a miraculous crack in the military clout in support of Suu Kyi.
Though democratic reforms started in Myanmar three years back, its present constitution that was adopted by the military junta in 2008 does not permit a Myanmarese with a foreign spouse to become the President. Need not to mention that Suu Kyi’s husband Michael Aris was a British citizen. Both of her sons also live in Britain possessing British citizenship. It is clearly understood that the particularprovision of constitution was introduced only to prevent her from conquering the Presidency.
Similar view was expressed by Bertil Lintner, an eminent journalist and expert on Myanmar, who clearly stated that ‘unlike the hype created by some western media outlets on Burma’s forthcoming general elections, the new government at NayPieTaw will not be led by ro-democracy icon Suu Kyi’. Attending an interactive session with media persons at Guwahati Press Club, the Swedish journalist asserted that the ruling USDP would regain power even if Suu Kyi led NLD sweeps the polls. Lintner predicted that the present President is likely to get reappointed as the head of the State & government after the polls.
While taking to this writer recently, Win also did not contradict the possibility of the General-turned-President Thein Sein’s second attempt of running for Presidency. The DVB activist, while interacting with this writer, pointed out that the present President has an advantage of being a former military man, as it would be easier for him to garner supports from all the Parliamentarians & Legislators, who were promoted by the Tatmadaw.
“President Thein Sein may find a short cut here, as he needs not to be elected from any constituency in the forthcoming polls,” explained Win adding that if Thein Sein nurtures supports from 25% Army representatives and also from the military sponsored USDP Parliamentarians & Legislators, he has better chances to win the Presidential election for the second time.
Even days back in an interview with Indian media outlets, Suu Kyi indirectly admitted that she may not be able to conquer the Presidency immediately. Expressing optimism for the future and confidence about the performance of her party in the polls, Suu Kyi commented that if the NLD receives the mandate of electorate, she would definitely lead the next Myanmar government whether or not she would be the President.
(Nava Thakuria is a senior Indian journalist based in Guwahati, Assam.)

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