Why can’t Suu Kyi become president despite her party’s landslide win?

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party scored a landslide victory (unofficial as of yet) in last Sunday’s general election in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, raising the concern over Suu Kyi’s presidency. The ruling party has declared to accept the results of the elections, paving way for a transition of power to a civilian government from a semi civilian one, which came to power replacing a total military regime.

The general election of Myanmar on November 8, 2015 has attracted many analyses from different international corners. It was the election fever that dominated everything last couple of months.

Around 323 independent candidates ran for the general election in Myanmar. Over 5,866 candidates ran the election under the banner of 92 different political parties. Out of these 92 parties, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) were the two major rivals standing face to face against each other in the election. The Noble Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was the main campaigner for the NLD, whereas the USDP was backed by the military of Myanmar; the same military that had been in power for decades until the transition to a semi civilian government under the USDP.

Despite her party’s landslide victory, Aung San Suu Kyi will not be able to become the president of her country. Although western and pro-Western media outlets are claiming Suu Kyi won most of the seats that were available for contest, the constitutional provisions bar Suu Kyi from becoming the president.

The constitution of Myanmar was drafted by the military. It guarantees that the unelected military representatives takes up 25% of the seats in the Assembly of Union (legislature of Myanmar) and holds a power to veto over any constitutional changes.

The Article 59F of this constitution has been blamed to be drafted intentionally in order to restrain Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming the president. The Article 59F provides that if someone’s legitimate child owes allegiance to a foreign power, the person (parent of the child) is disqualified for the presidency. This particular provision of the constitution covers Aung San Suu Kyi, as her two children are not Myanmar nationals and hold British passports. Therefore, even after the NLD’s (Suu Kyi’s party) landslide victory in the general election, there is no fortune for Suu Kyi to become the president of her country in 2016.

However, many supporters and partymen of Aung San Suu Kyi hope that this crushing victory for NLD (Suu Kyi’s party) in the general election will open her door for subsequent presidency in subsequent elections through amending the constitution, particularly changing the aforementioned Article 59F. However, such a hope is bound to go astray, because, even if Suu Kyi’s party, which scored a landslide victory, moves ahead to amend the constitution in order to change Article 59F, the military representatives in the Assembly would block the attempt to change this clause by using their veto power. So, there is unlikely to be a fortune for Suu Kyi to become the president of her country in subsequent elections, atleast not in the next one.

There is also no good fortune for that particular party-man of Suu Kyi, who, after NLD’s victory, will now become the president of Myanmar. Because, s/he (the coming president from Suu Kyi’s party) would be bound to act under the direct influence of the military and would not be able to go beyond military’s will. This is because, the power of the president in Myanmar is lesser than that of the head of the army. It is the head of the army who selects the key ministers, including ministers for defence, for home affairs and for border affairs. The president has no role in these selections. To add to the dismay of the coming president from Suu Kyi’s party, the constitution cannot be changed, as already mentioned earlier, without military approval. Therefore, the constitutional provisions and the greater power of the military within the Assembly of Union indicate that the military bloc within the Assembly has the power to push through legislation against the president’s wish. The coming president, thus, will have fewer roles to play in the capacity of a president.

As for neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, the only relevant thing that is to be taken into account is that there are immense economic opportunities for Bangladesh within Myanmar. There should be no concern on Bangladesh’s part as to who won the Myanmar election; rather Bangladesh should push for closer ties with Myanmar irrespective of who holds Myanmar’s power. With the transfer of power from a military government to a civilian one in 2011, Myanmar went on board towards economic liberalization. As international isolating for Myanmar ended, opportunities have emerged for other countries to earn billions from exporting and investing in Myanmar. Being one of the five neighbours of Myanmar, Bangladesh should try to grab such opportunities. Therefore, irrespective of who holds the ultimate power in Myanmar, Bangladesh should bolster its relations with Myanmar and take the benefit of Myanmar’s economic liberalization.


Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst, and writes on Middle Eastern, greater Asia-Pacific & European geopolitics. Also a campaigner for environmental and social awareness, Bahauddin Foizee occasionally writes on environment and refugee issues.

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