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Suu Kyi to be part of Burma's new democratic government

Published 22/03/2016

Burma's president-elect has proposed an 18-member Cabinet which will include party leader Aung San Suu Kyi (AP)
Burma's president-elect has proposed an 18-member Cabinet which will include party leader Aung San Suu Kyi (AP)

Burma's president-elect has proposed an 18-member Cabinet which will include party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the former dissident who campaigned for decades to replace the military junta with a democratically elected government.

Htin Kyaw submitted the names to parliament for a formal review and approval by legislators on Wednesday, after which the ministers' Cabinet positions will be decided.

At the top of the list is Ms Suu Kyi, who was not able to become president because of a constitutional block, even though she led her party to a landslide victory in a general election last November.

It has been widely rumored that Ms Suu Kyi will become foreign minister, but that is far from certain because if she were to take that post she would have to give up her parliamentary seat and end party activities.

"I doubt that Aung San Suu Kyi would take the position of the foreign minister," said Toe Kyaw Hlaign, a political analyst.

"Also, working as a foreign minister requires a lot of time travelling around the world. She will have to do a lot of international relations and overseas trips, and she won't have the time to exercise control over the government."

Ms Suu Kyi has said in the past that she will be "above the president" and govern the country indirectly.

Nevertheless, her entry into the government is a remarkable turn of fortunes not only for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate but also for the country, which had been under iron-fisted military rule since 1962. For decades the junta kept Burma in isolation and economic stagnation while refusing to listen to international counsel or homegrown demands for democracy.

Ms Suu Kyi came to prominence in 1988 when popular protests were building up. The junta crushed the protests that had turned into anti-government riots, killing thousands of people and placing Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest in 1989.

The junta called elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won overwhelmingly. Ms Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year later.

As Burma continued to wallow under military rule, Ms Suu Kyi was released and re-arrested several times. The junta finally started loosening its grip on power in 2010, allowing elections that were won by a military-allied party after the NLD boycotted the polls as unfair.

After more reforms, another general election was held last November 8 and was won by the NLD, a reflection of Ms Suu Kyi's widespread public support. The constitutional clause that denied her the presidency excludes anyone from the position who has a foreign spouse or children. Ms Suu Kyi's two sons are British, as was her late husband. The clause is widely seen as having been written by the military with Ms Suu Kyi in mind.

The democracy that Ms Suu Kyi and her colleagues are building is still not a complete package. The military has reserved 25% of the seats in parliament for itself, guaranteeing that no government can amend the constitution without its approval.

Also, it ensured that one of Htin Kyaw's two vice presidents is a former general, Myint Swe, a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe. Myint Swe remains on a US Treasury Department blacklist which bars American companies from doing business with several tycoons and senior military figures connected with the former junta.

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