Video: Burma installs first civilian president in decades
posted at 5:01 pm on March 15, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
Nothing ever comes easy in Burma. It took 54 years to break the military’s grip on government in the Asian nation, but they may have only relaxed it somewhat. The country has elected and installed its first civilian president in decades, but still retain enough political and economic power to potentially set the nation up for another fracture, or another coup d’etat:
Burma’s parliament on Tuesday chose Htin Kyaw, a longtime adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, as president of the first civilian government in the Southeast Asian nation in decades.
Htin Kyaw, 69, an executive committee member of a Suu Kyi-led foundation, will be sworn in on March 30 at a crucial time in Burma’s history, as the country shifts from military-backed government to a civilian one lead by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. …
Analysts say that the generals will be a priority for Htin Kyaw and Aung San Suu Kyi as they move forward in the coming weeks. The military hold outsized power in Burma, with key ministries and vast business holdings still under their control. They vetoed an effort by Suu Kyi to circumvent a constitutional provision that bars her serving as president.
The vote in the Burmese parliament nearly got derailed the day before, when the military objected to Suu Kyi’s nominations for both president and second vice president. The issue is Suu Kyi’s clear intention to run Burma through her hand-picked officials, thwarting the military’s determination to keep her from power:
Myanmar’s powerful military questioned Aung San Suu Kyi’s picks for president and vice president on Monday as tension simmered between the two sides a day before parliament votes on who should get the top job.
Relations between the armed forces and Suu Kyi will define the success or otherwise of Myanmar’s most significant break from military rule since the army seized power in 1962, even though the constitution bars her from taking the presidency.
The democracy leader says she will run the country whoever becomes president, and her choice looks certain to be confirmed by parliament as her National League for Democracy (NLD) holds a sizeable majority after winning a landslide victory in a general election in November.
Suu Kyi’s NLD won the previous democratic elections in Burma, held in 1990, and seemed on her way to becoming Prime Minister. Instead, the military junta nullified the elections and sent Suu Kyi into house arrest, where she spent 15 of the next 21 years. Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent efforts to return democracy to Burma. The military may have tried to intimidate her or her NLD party at the last minute, but Suu Kyi has spent most of her life refusing to be intimidated.
Besides, the NLD had its reservations about the junta’s choice for first VP:
NLD lawmakers also privately said the military’s choice of Myint Swe as its candidate went against the spirit of reconciliation Suu Kyi says she is seeking to foster.
Myint Swe served the junta as head of the feared military intelligence and is on the U.S. sanctions list. If the vote on Tuesday goes as expected, he will become one of two vice presidents.
Right now, this looks like a very uneasy marriage between the democratizers and the junta, with the junta still holding most of what are supposed to be joint assets. The installation of a civilian government is a good first step, but the measure of democratization will be whether a second democratically elected government succeeds it in normal fashion. At the moment, the junta isn’t exactly joining in the spirit of this transition, and that may be a big red flag for the prospects of Burmese democracy.