Aung San Suu Kyi plans to take charge of four of Burma’s most important ministries when party comes to power

Suu Kyi will hold foreign, education and electric power and energy portfolios as well as being minister in president’s office

Aung San Suu Kyi plans to take charge of four of Burma’s most important ministries in the new government which comes to power at the end of March, as well as giving orders to her friend and proxy, president-elect Htin Kyaw.

It has emerged that she will hold the foreign, education and electric power and energy portfolios as well as being minister in the president’s office. 

Confounding reports the previous day sourced to a senior figure in her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), that she would confine her formal role to running the party, it is now clear that she will be as hands-on as it is possible to be – and perhaps more so. 

It was widely predicted in recent weeks that she would become foreign minister: her close familiarity with top officials and heads of state around the world, as well as her ease in English, made her the obvious candidate for the post. It is also the only available job which would give her a seat on the powerful 11-member National Defence and Security Council, which, as successor to the security councils through which the military ran Burma from 1989 onwards, has the power to declare martial law and suspend democratic government. Seven of the 11 members come from the military. 

But no-one expected that Suu Kyi would also take on four ministerial portfolios. As the president enjoys wide powers under the constitution, it would theoretically have been sufficient to have herself appointed minister in the president’s office, so she could call the shots from there. Instead she will be directly in charge of taking some of the most crucial decisions in the country. Her ambitions might have stretched even further were it not for the fact that, under the constitution, the military controls three vital ministries: Home, Border Affairs, and Defence.

U Win Htein, a veteran politician and co-founder of the NLD, commented philosophically, “It doesn’t matter how many ministries she takes, as she will run the whole government anyway.” Her domination of government underlines the difficulty she has experienced in delegating power within her party. Aged 70, she has no clear successor or deputy. President-elect Htin Kyaw has been a friend of hers since childhood, but has never played a political role, and will be expected merely to implement her decisions.

The electric power and energy portfolio will be an early test of her mettle: in 2011 President Thein Sein, bowing to public outrage, suspended work on the huge, Chinese-financed Myitsone dam in the north of the country, which was intended to export most of the power it generated to China. The Chinese government is exerting strong pressure for work on the dam to resume, yet it remains deeply unpopular within Burma. Getting that right would be an early indication of Suu Kyi’s competence – despite the staggering array of challenges she has given herself. 

The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham is published by Rider

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