Aung San Suu Kyi set to get PM-type role in Myanmar government

Bill to appoint Nobel laureate as powerful state counsellor, bypassing ban on her becoming president, passes upper house

Aung San Suu Kyi plans to create a role for herself that will give her similar powers to that of a prime minister in the new Myanmar government, further circumventing a constitutional ban on her serving as president.

The bill to form a state counsellor role, with specific reference to the 70-year-old Nobel laureate in the text, was the first piece of legislation put to parliament on the first day of office for the democratically-elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

It passed the upper house on Friday but needs lower house approval and a presidential sign-off before becoming law, conditions that are likely to be met with an NLD majority in both chambers and an NLD-appointed president.

Blocked from the presidency under a junta-drafted 2008 constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi is to head four cabinet posts including foreign affairs, president’s office, education, and energy ministries.

As state counsellor, the longtime democracy campaigner would also work with political parties and organisations, effectively giving her influence in the executive and the legislative arms of government.

Importantly, the role allows her to keep a foot in parliament as her cabinet appointments had forced her to step down from the legislature. Observers have likened the position to a prime minister-type role.

“The object of the proposal from the bill committee in the upper house parliament is to fulfil the wishes and interests of people who voted on 8 November 2015,” NLD lawmaker Aung Kyi Nyun told parliament.

Before Aung San Suu Kyi won a victory in the November elections, she promised to be “above the president” – Htin Kyaw is a trusted school friend who is expected to act as a proxy.

The bill led to the first political battle Aung San Suu Kyi has fought with the military in parliament since the president was sworn in on Wednesday.

The army-aligned Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP) opposed it, saying it was unconstitutional. Members of the military, who are automatically given 25% of parliamentary seats, also argued against the bill, saying it should be referred to a constitutional tribunal.

Army politician Col Hla Win Aung warned that the bill could “destroy” the balance of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary.

Aung San Suu Kyi is blocked from becoming president as she has children with foreign nationality, a clause the military leaders made sure to write into the constitution. Her late husband was British.

Her government is smaller by about a third than the outgoing military-aligned administration. It includes a ministry of ethnic affairs, which will likely address issues from Myanmar’s 40% minority ethnic populations.

The seat is held by Naing Thet Lwin, an ethnic Mon born in 1940 who led an anti-government movement in 1988, according to the Myanmar Times.

The daughter of the country’s assassinated revolutionary hero, Aung San Suu Kyi is the only woman in the cabinet.

There has also been controversy in Myanmar over the appointment of Kyaw Win as planning and finance minister. The longtime civil servant told the Myanmar Times that the doctorate listed on his official party profile was fake.

The 68-year-old said he was a shocked to discover that his credentials were bogus after netizens alerted him that he had been scammed by company in Pakistan. His CV, issued by the NLD, showed he held a PhD from Brooklyn Park University, an online organisation that sold fraudulent degrees.

“I am not going to call myself Dr any more, as I know now that it is a fake university,” he said.

Thura U Aung Ko, a senior member of the outgoing USDP, is minister of religious and cultural affairs. The retired military officer was seen as close to Suu Kyi during the past five years as democratic reforms were gradually implemented.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


Oliver Holmes in Bangkok

The GuardianTramp

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