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Myanmar must break old patterns

Ebbighausen Rodion Kommentarbild App
Rodion Ebbighausen
March 10, 2016

Myanmar has announced the candidates running for the presidency. While Aung San Suu Kyi's name is not on the list, a close confidant of hers will contest. But this is not a good idea, says DW's Rodion Ebbighausen.

Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi und Htin Kyaw
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Than Win

Aung San Suu Kyi will not be the next president of Myanmar, as she is barred from holding the presidency under the military-drafted 2008 constitution that prohibits those with foreign close relatives from assuming high political office. Aung San Suu Kyi's sons are British nationals.

Talks of a deal, under which the relevant articles of the nation's constitution would be changed in favor of Aung San Suu Kyi in exchange for the military receiving key posts in the new government, have turned out to be baseless.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has nominated the economist Htin Kyaw and the lawyer Henry van Hti Yu, who belongs to the Chin ethnic minority, for president.

Htin Kyaw is regarded as a close confidant of Aung San Suu Kyi. They both studied together at Oxford University. But the candidate has yet to make a name for himself.

Meanwhile, Hti Yu is nominated to show that the nation's numerous ethnic minorities are represented in the political process. Since the NLD enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, it is assumed that Htin Kyaw, who has yet to be officially confirmed, will win. And Henry van Hti Yu is expected to become vice president.

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DW's Rodion EbbighausenImage: DW

In any case, who the new president will be isn't that important. Even prior to the election on November 8, 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi had told a press conference that she would be above the president.

There are two main problems with this:

Firstly, whether this fits within the definition of democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi, herself an icon of democracy, considers herself to be above the law, above the constitution, the country's system of governance. Indeed the constitution was written by the military, however, the National League for Democracy (NLD) accepted this system prior to the elections. As an advocate of the rule of law, she should not be bending these laws.

Secondly, it's important to remember that the country's current political development exists is in the context of the country's recent brutal past. Myanmar has already had a politician like Aung Sung Suu Kyi - her father Aung San, upon whom the hopes and aspirations of the people rested.

Indeed, after his assassination in 1947, the country's political system collapsed. And even after so many years, the country is still struggling to cope with its person-centered politics.

Myanmar is now dealing with a repeating pattern. All hopes are pinned on Aung San Suu Kyi who now has an undisputable mandate from the people - which is only limited by the military which is constitutionally guaranteed to occupy a quarter of the seats in parliament.

Her party follows a strict hierarchical structure, with Aung San Suu Kyi pulling all the strings. But who or what will come after her? Aung San Suu Kyi will turn 71 this year.

If Aung San Suu Kyi and her party are really serious about democratizing the country, they should get rid of old patterns and set a good example. The party must emancipate itself from its overly powerful general secretary.

Aung San Suu Kyi should not only tolerate strong and independent personalities around her, but also integrate and support them in the party. Otherwise, democracy will have no future in Myanmar.

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