Myanmar Senate Approves Aung San Suu Kyi As State Councilor

Myanmar’s upper house of parliament approved a bill on March 30 that effectively places Nobel peace prize laureate and National League for Democracy (NLD) chair Aung San Suu Kyi as state councilor, a powerful government role that’s equivalent to being the nation’s de facto prime minister. Meanwhile, the Burmese military opposition has voiced vehement objection to this motion, deeming it unconstitutional.

Aung San Suu Kyi as a minister
Myanmar's Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, center, walks out of her ministry in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Friday, April 1, 2016. [Image by AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo]

The bill was passed on the second day of NLD’s new administration with the purpose of circumventing the constitution established by the former military junta that prevented her from ever taking the presidency due to her two sons not being citizens of Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi herself described the motion as “silly” and stated that she would rule anyway due to being the leader of the NLD, which took an absolute majority victory during the elections in November 2015.

Meanwhile, various figures from the military-backed opposition—the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—objected the bill on grounds of creating conflicts of interest for Aung San Suu Kyi due to her holding other positions in the new government and disrupting the balance of power due to the state councilor being on the same level as the president. The 70-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi is currently the head of the foreign, education, electric power and energy, and President’s Office ministries. With her being state councilor, she will have to juggle all said responsibilities, along with being the chairperson of NLD.

The NLD holds a majority in both upper and lower houses, thus not needing military approval. However, the party does not hold sufficient power to amend the constitution as this would require support of more than 75 percent of lawmakers. The 2008 Constitution of Burma has a provision that prevents anyone with foreign-born relatives from becoming president. In the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, her late husband and her two sons are British nationals.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Htin Kyaw exchanging pleasantries
National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, is welcomed by new Myanmar President Htin Kyaw during a dinner reception in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 30, 2016. [Image via AP Photo/Ye Aung Thu]

Myanmar had been under military rule for almost 50 years, from the coup d’etat by Ne Win in March 1962 until August 2011. Ne Win formed the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and established the Burmese Way to Socialism that saw Burma become one of the most impoverished countries in the world and would remain head of state for 26 years until his resignation as president in 1981.

Burma was then renamed into Myanmar in 1989 after the 8888 Uprising, which culminated from unrest over worsening conditions and saw thousands of protesters killed and another coup d’etat. The succeeding government then placed Myanmar under martial law. This, the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi as a would-be savior, and her resulting house arrest drew worldwide media attention on Myanmar.

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The junta then arranged an election on May 27, 1990 in an effort to appease the masses. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won an overwhelming 392 of the 492 seats, prompting the junta to not recognize the results. The military government would remain in power until March 30, 2011, with the inauguration of the new government under then-President Thein Sein.

Thein Sein’s term saw major political reforms to facilitate transition from military dictatorship to civilian government with mixed results. He was also re-elected as the chairman of the USDP—in contradiction of the constitution that prohibits the president from taking part in party activities. He was then succeeded on March 30 by Htin Kyaw, an NLD member and the first elected civilian to become president of Myanmar since the 1962 coup d’etat.

Aung San Suu Kyi conversing with military generals
Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with military generals during the presidential handover ceremony in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 30, 2016. [Image via AP Photo/Nyein Chan Naing]

Aung San Suu Kyi will assume her roles in the new government while maintaining a tense relationship with the military that kept her under house arrest for 15 years.

[Image via AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe]