Myanmar army MPs slam bill to create Suu Kyi 'advisor' role

Aung San Suu Kyi is the figurehead of a near 30-year struggle to end military domination in Myanmar (File Photo: AFP)

Myanmar military MPs on Friday said a plan to bolster Aung San Suu Kyi’s power with a special advisory role was unconstitutional, as the new civilian government tussled with the army just days after taking office.

The Southeast Asian nation was dominated by the military for more than half a century until Wednesday, when Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party took power.

The Nobel laureate, whose party secured a landslide election win in November, has vowed to rule the country despite a constitutional block on her becoming president.

In a surprise early act of parliamentary business by the new government, Suu Kyi’s party proposed a bill to grant her a special “state counsellor” position.

If passed it would give the 70-year-old a steering role over parliament, buttressed by the four ministerial posts she already holds in the new cabinet.

But in a sign of early turbulence between her party and the still hugely influential army, military MPs challenged the move in an upper house debate Friday that saw the bill pass its first legislative hurdle.

Colonel Myint Swe raised fears the plan would place the “president and the advisor at the same level”.

“This is in opposition to the constitution. So I would like to suggest the bill be amended according to the constitution,” he told lawmakers.

Another army lawmaker, Colonel Hla Win Aung, also decried the naming of Suu Kyi in the bill and warned it could “destroy” the balance of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary.

The army is reserved a quarter of all parliamentary seats by a charter it scripted.

The bill passed the upper house vote but still needs approval in the lower house and combined parliament, which are similarly dominated by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

NLD MP Zaw Min, chairman of the upper house bill committee, dismissed concerns that the proposal was unconstitutional, saying that judgement lies with the newly formed Constitutional Tribunal.

“It is too early to say that the bill is in opposition to the constitution,” he said, without elaborating on whether it would be referred to the tribunal.

Hurdles ahead

Suu Kyi is the figurehead of a near 30-year struggle to end military domination that saw her put under house arrest for years.

She is barred from the presidency by a clause in the junta-drafted charter disqualifying those with foreign close relatives. Her two sons are British, as was her late husband.

The veteran campaigner has pledged to rule through her longtime friend and confidant Htin Kyaw, who was sworn in as president Wednesday.

She is also taking on a huge workload in his cabinet, running the ministries of foreign affairs, education, energy and the president’s office.

The position outlined in the new bill does not spell out specific powers for Suu Kyi, but it would enable her to maintain sway over the legislature she had to step down from to become a minister.

It also gives her a budget and authority to conduct any meetings deemed necessary.

The NLD celebrated its historic week with a street fair in downtown Yangon Friday that saw supporters flock around food stalls as loudspeakers played old campaign songs and speeches.

But the novice government faces a tough road ahead as it strives to tackle mammoth challenges in a nation scarred by decades of repressive and economically destructive army rule.

Analysts say it will need support from the military that retains huge political influence, including control of three key ministries.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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