Analysis: Aung San Suu Kyi’s future rule in Burma depends on military

No guarantees junta will hand over power despite landslide win for opposition

Supporters of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate as they look at the official election results outside the National League of Democracy headquarters in Rangoon. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

Supporters of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate as they look at the official election results outside the National League of Democracy headquarters in Rangoon. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

 

Burma’s Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi looked set to defy the powerful military to take power after a major election win, but there are questions about how exactly she will take over the reins of the southeast Asian nation.

The focus is on her remarks about being “above the president”, which she said at the weekend and repeated in an interview with the BBC yesterday. She has indicated that she will direct the president appointed once her victory is confirmed, as she is barred from the presidency under the 2008 constitution drafted by the army. What she is proposing is in effect to use a puppet president to carry out her bidding, basing her mandate on massive public support in Burma.

In an interview with Channel News Asia, Suu Kyi said the chosen president would be appointed “just to meet requirements of constitution”.

“He will have to understand this perfectly well that he will have no authority, that he will act in accordance with the decisions of the party,” she said. “That is the only logical way to do it. Because in any democratic country, it’s the leader of the winning party that becomes the leader of the government. If this constitution doesn’t allow it, then we will have to make arrangements so that we can proceed along usual democratic lines.”

Her remarks have caused some disquiet, with even former prisoners and activists talking of their fear of “oriental despotism” and the imposition of some form of authoritarian government. But Suu Kyi insists she has the backing of the people. “We have been able to survive as long as we have because we have the support of the people and governments that depend on the support of the people never become authoritarian,” she said.

The last time her National League of Democracy (NLD) formally contested an election, in 1990, the party also won by a landslide. The military ignored the result back then and Suu Kyi spent the next 20 years under house arrest at her home in Rangoon. So the question is, how will the military respond this time?

The military-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is led by retired soldiers, has conceded defeat in a poll and its reaction to Suu Kyi’s declaration of intent to govern is key.

It is by no means clear if the military will tolerate such a move. Zaw Htay, a senior official at the president’s office, has said the comments about being “above the president” were anti-constitutional because the president “takes precedence over all other persons” in Burma.

The military junta ruled for 50 years and forced Burma into international isolation, before allowing elections in 2011 and handing over power to the USDP.

The election has shown some of the divisions that remain. As well as the clause in the constitution that bars Suu Kyi from the presidency because of her foreign husband and children, the military is guaranteed 25 per cent of seats in parliament and it controls the appointment of ministers in key departments. About one-fifth of voters were not allowed to vote, including about a million Rohingya Muslims and displaced people in Burma’s ethnic areas. Muslim candidates were also disqualified.

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