Myanmar’s upper house of parliament approved a Bill that gives Aung San Suu Kyi a powerful government role, despite opposition from the military on the second day of her party’s new administration.
The Bill creates the post of State Counsellor and would allow the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi to coordinate ministers and influence the executive.
It would help Suu Kyi circumvent a constitution written under the former junta that prevents her leading the country because her two sons are not Myanmar citizens.
Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest because of her push for democracy, has described those constitutional provisions as “silly” and said she would rule regardless after she led her National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide election victory in November.
Members of parliament from the military — who under the constitution hold a quarter of seats — opposed the NLD bill, describing it as unconstitutional.
They said the state counsellor position concentrated too much power in the hands of one person and lacked checks and balances. The provisions in the Bill are tantamount to meaning the state counsellor is equal to the president, which is contrary to the constitution.
Some lawmakers suggested the Constitutional Tribunal should decide on the Bill. Despite military resistance, the Bill passed and moved to the lower house for debate. The NLD has a majority in both houses so does not need military approval to pass Bills.
Suu Kyi’s party would need military approval to change the constitution: amendments require support of more than 75 per cent of lawmakers.
The constitution is the main bone of contention between Suu Kyi and the military, whose commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, stressed the need for the armed forces to remain a force in politics and warned against amending the charter quickly.
The role of state counsellor will add to the list of Suu Kyi’s jobs – she is already foreign minister, education minister, energy minister, and minister of the president’s office – and has renewed questions about her willingness to delegate power.
The energy portfolio gives Suu Kyi oversight of oil and gas production, as well as responsibility for a decision on the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project, suspended in 2011. China has invested heavily in it and is keen to see it proceed.