Most are familiar with the reason that Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be president of Myanmar. The current constitution of the country bars anyone with foreign spouses or children from holding that office. Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband was British, as are her two sons, who hold British citizenship.
The current constitution was of course drafted by Myanmar’s military rulers who, in all likelihood, inserted that clause precisely to disqualify Ms Suu Kyi from becoming president. Not many contenders for that office have foreign spouses.
But starting earlier this month, the chatter around Myanmar seemed to suggest that she could, after all, be president. These latest rumours were first sparked off when the parliament of Myanmar announced that it would elect the president only on 17 March – a delay.
This suggested to some that Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party colleagues have been in talks with Myanmar’s military rulers to have the constitution amended before that date.
To make such a constitutional amendment, a vote of more than 75% would be needed in parliament. But currently, the military holds 25% of parliamentary seats, special seats which were filled through appointments rather than through elections. This means that any constitutional amendment ultimately requires the military’s approval.
Ms Suu Kyi has met General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief of its armed forces, not once but twice since her party’s landslide victory at the November 2015 general election.
The NLD’s party spokesman, Win Htein, one of the few figures close to Ms Suu Kyi. said that the results of the nomination for the office of president “will be a surprise to everyone.” This statement of the NLD fuelled further rumours.
Expect much deal-making, and compromises
Clearly, the latest political manoevring between Ms Suu Kyi and her NLD colleagues, and the military rulers of Myanmar, is part of a very long struggle to gain power over the country. There is no reason that Ms Suu Kyi would stop now, just because a constitutional clause bars her from the presidency because of am inconvenient technicality.
Her NLD party had already won 60% of seats in the upper house and 58% of seats in the lower house of parliament, at the November general election. The next largest political party in parliament, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), won a paltry 5% and 7% of the seats, respectively.
Ms Suu Kyi has long shown a clear desire for the presidency. During the campaign leading up to the November elections, she said she planned to have her party elect a proxy who would answer to her, since she is herself disqualified from it. Now, sources in her party have told the media that they are confident that they can negotiate the passage of the constitutional amendment for her to assume the post herself.
And hence over the next weeks, intense deal-making will take place between Ms Suu Kyi and the generals – all behind closed doors. Many of Ms Suu Kyi’s key political decisions, such as this one on the presidency, have been known to be kept to only a small circle of confidantes, unbeknownst to the large swathe of NLD members and even elected parliamentarians.
What would the generals want in return for granting her the presidency, and the constitutional amendment necessary to make way for that? What would Ms Suu Kyi be prepared to compromise on, to overcome this final hurdle to her becoming the leader of Myanmar, after a decades-long struggle?