Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s decades-long battle to bring democracy to Myanmar is likely to come to fruition on Thursday with a whimper, not a bang. Despite leading her party to a smashing election victory last year, she seems certain not to become her country’s leader.
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.
In practical terms, the new president will become known Thursday, when the upper and lower houses of parliament and the military bloc that holds a constitutionally mandated 25 percent of seats will nominate their presidential candidates. But until those nominations, virtually no one outside of Suu Kyi’s inner circle knows who will be the country’s next leader.
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The new president is virtually certain to be from Suu Kyi’s party, since it holds majorities in both chambers of parliament, giving it not only the right to make two nominations but the numbers to pick the winner. The two runners-up become the country’s vice presidents.
But 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 assured her followers 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.”
Elaborating that same day with Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia, she seemed even more dismissive of political etiquette, saying that the president picked by her party would “have to understand this perfectly well, that he will have no authority. That he will act in accordance with the positions of the party.”
A surprised interviewer asked whether the smooth functioning of government might be handicapped by having a president without power.
“Why should it affect the functions of the government?” Suu Kyi replied. “Because there will be a government, it will be run properly, the president will be told exactly what he can do.”
In recent months, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, or NLD, made an effort to obviate the need for a proxy president, floating the idea that the constitutional article barring her from the top slot could be suspended. But the idea was rebuffed by the military _ which remains a powerful force despite the defeat of its parliamentary allies _ and has apparently been put aside for the time being.
With the NLD remaining tightlipped about its intended nominees, politics for now has become a guessing game.
The terms that Suu Kyi suggests will apply for the new president indicate that personal loyalty to her will be a key attribute of whoever is chosen. Suu Kyi has few strong-willed, charismatic colleagues in her party, anyway.
Several people fit the bill. The one most frequently mentioned 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 an NLD 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.
Another close loyalist whose name has been raised is 64-year-old Dr. Tin Myo Win, Suu Kyi’s personal physician, a veteran party member who was one of the few people allowed to visit her during her various periods of house arrest under military rule.
Another physician, Dr. Tin Mar Aung, a woman who is Suu Kyi’s personal assistant and seen constantly by her side, is in the running. Suu Kyi is believed to want at least the vice president’s post to be held by a woman or an ethnic minority.
Although he has disavowed interest in the job, 89-year-old Tin Oo, a former senior army general who was an early senior NLD executive, also is the sort of loyalist who meets the job requirements. Tin Oo, who has publicly battled side-by-side with Suu Kyi since the party’s founding, is probably the best known among the possibilities, having paid for his political dedication with long stretches of house arrest.
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.