Friday, September 22, 2017

Army newspaper rejects NLD leader as president

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should never be allowed to become president by changing the constitution, according to a hard-hitting opinion piece published in the military-owned Myawady newspaper yesterday.

National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the new lower house parliamentary session in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: AFPNational League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the new lower house parliamentary session in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: AFP

The column, prominently flagged on the front page of the Tatmadaw’s mouthpiece, declared that section 59(f) of the military-drafted constitution, which effectively bars the National League for Democracy leader from being head of government, should not be changed “for all eternity” out of “national interest”.

Myawady chose to publish the column on the day of the opening of the new NLD-dominated parliament amid recent speculation that the military might relent and agree to change the constitution, or waive that particular article, in order to allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to take on the mantle of the presidency, perhaps after a year or so.

The article appeared one week after crucial talks between the NLD leader and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing that focused on forming the new government and the transfer of authority. Some observers took the publication of the column as a sign that the senior general had rebuffed any suggestion that she might become president.

Article 59(f) of the 2008 constitution bars those with sons or daughters of foreign citizenship from becoming president. The 70-year-old NLD leader was married to a UK academic, and her two sons have British citizenship. It is widely believed this provision was written into the charter with the express purpose of barring her from the top job.

The Myawady columnist, writing under the pen name of Sai Wai Luu, devoted an entire page to his rejection of constitutional change and looked to history to justify 59(f).

“We even used to address foreigners before independence as ‘master’. That was the slavery mentality,” he said.

The columnist reaffirmed that the Tatmadaw would cooperate with the future government, and mentioned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by name in the context of her role as party leader.

But the author forcefully concludes that someone with foreign close relatives cannot be president.

“The person who is going to take the position above all citizens and whom all citizens trust absolutely and undoubtedly should be a citizen of ethnic nationality. To gain that status, someone whose family members are under foreign power should not be the head of the state,” he wrote.

U Yan Myo Thein, a political columnist, said the article had come at a highly sensitive moment while there was widespread discussion about amending the charter for “the daughter of our national hero General Aung San and Nobel Prize winner”.

However, he questioned whether the column represented the unified stance of the Tatmadaw and its unelected MPs who make up 25 percent of parliament. He suggested it might represent the views of some military figures, but not all.