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Myanmar's Ruling Party Wants To Make Aung San Suu Kyi The 'President's Boss'

Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (center) walks out of her ministry in Naypyitaw on Friday. Her ally U Htin Kyaw took over as Myanmar's president Wednesday.
Aung Shine Oo
Myanmar Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (center) walks out of her ministry in Naypyitaw on Friday. Her ally U Htin Kyaw took over as Myanmar's president Wednesday.

Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to victory in Myanmar's elections in November, but a constitutional provision crafted during military rule prevents her from becoming president.

So legislators from her party are proposing a law that would create a new position in the government. Officially, it would be called "state adviser" — but another title, lawmakers suggest, might be "president's boss."

"Opponents of the bill argue that it goes against the constitution, which they say does not allow anyone to be above the president," NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing. "Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, has a majority in both houses of parliament, so the bill is expected to pass."

Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, spent 15 years under house arrest for her opposition to the military dictatorship. Suu Kyi and the NLD won a sweeping victory in elections in 1990, but the military junta rejected the results and kept her confined.

In 2008, Myanmar's military leadership wrote a constitution that bars anyone whose spouse or child is a foreign citizen from becoming president. Suu Kyi's two children are British, as was her late husband.

The country's constitution also grants the military — which controlled the country for more than 50 years — a quarter of the seats in parliament. And the military can veto any attempts to change the constitution.

"Some observers, like Yangon-based analyst Kyaw Lin Oo, see this system as a straitjacket tailored for Suu Kyi," Anthony reported in November. "Kyaw Lin Oo says the system's architect is none other than Than Shwe, a senior general and the retired head of the military junta."

But despite the constraints placed on her, Suu Kyi vowed to be "above the president" if her party won November's election — which it did, in a landslide.

After failed attempts to persuade military leaders to allow changes to the constitution, she has also apologized to her supporters for not being able to be president.

Even without the proposed "state adviser" position, Suu Kyi has a de facto leadership role in Myanmar's brand-new civilian government.

"To make up for being barred from the presidency, Suu Kyi has named an ally as her proxy," Anthony notes. "And she has taken on four cabinet portfolios, making her simultaneously minister of foreign affairs, energy, education and the president's office."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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