Suu Kyi’s path to presidency proves tough

By Song Qingrun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-17 18:18:01

With democratic reforms in full swing, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Myanmar's main opposition party, inaugurated its first congress on March 8-10 in the party's 25-year history.

The purpose of the congress was to tackle problems like the party's internal divisions and aging membership and reinvigorate the pro-democracy party.

Aung San Suu Kyi was re-elected as chairperson of the NLD, calling for "new blood" to strengthen the party. The congress stated that the NLD would continue to promote an amendment to  the current undemocratic constitution, push Myanmar to establish rule of law, and solve the conflicts in the Kachin and Rakhine states.

The congress showed that the NLD is actively seeking changes to win more support from the Myanmar public and the international community for the 2015 election.

Suu Kyi has repeatedly expressed her intentions to run for the presidency. The current Myanmese President Thein Sein said he would accept the verdict if the public chooses Suu Kyi as the president.

Major public opinion holds that if the 2015 election is independent and fair, it is highly likely that Suu Kyi and the NLD under her leadership will be victorious.

Suu Kyi is viewed as a symbol of democracy in Myanmar. She enjoys a high reputation among the public. Her speeches can draw hundreds of thousand of listeners, and news about her often makes the front page.

Many Myanmese drivers hang ornaments with Suu Kyi's picture in their cars for good luck.

Suu Kyi also enjoys high popularity on the international arena, and receives a reception similar to those given to heads of state when she visits foreign countries.

Under Suu Kyi's influence, the NLD has attracted over 1.2 million members and is absorbing more talent. It has also established the party's Myanmese and English websites to expand its domestic and external influence.

It's an undisputable fact that the fortunes of Suu Kyi and the NLD are rising. However, the road to the presidency is not smooth.

According to the current constitution, Suu Kyi is unqualified to be a presidential candidate for her deceased husband was a foreigner and she herself isn't an expert in military affairs. A constitutional amendment is needed for Suu Kyi to seek the presidency.

However, amending the constitution needs support from over three-fourths of parliament members.

At present, military members hold a quarter of all seats in the parliament, which makes them decisive in the realization of the amendment. The military parliament members support the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Allowing these constitutional amendments means giving up their ruling status.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi is unable to integrate and lead all the democratic forces as she did when she set up the NLD in 1988. Many opposition parties such as the 88 Generation Student Group and the National Democratic Force are seeking their independent political influence, and they even have conflicts with the NLD.

Moreover, Suu Kyi's inaction over ethnic problems like the Rakhine and Kachin issues has aroused dissatisfaction against her from ethnic groups.

Within the NLD, the power struggle between older and younger members is intense. The older generation still has a big influence on the party, although the first congress vowed to include young blood.

The strong influence of the NLD mainly results from Suu Kyi. As an opposition party, the NLD lacks governance experience and has not yet introduced systematic governance plans. It doesn't have experienced talent either.

This makes the outside world doubt whether the NLD is qualified to lead Myanmar, a country facing acute ethnic conflicts, tough reforms and a backward economy.

In contrast, although the ruling party isn't as popular as the NLD, it has the support of the military and rich experience of governance.

There are still two years before the 2015 election when Suu Kyi will be 70 years old.

Will she and the NLD overcome the difficulties and pave the way for her presidency? Let's wait and see.

The author is a research fellow on Myanmar studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Posted in: Asian Beat, Viewpoint

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