Myanmar’s parliament unanimously approved on Thursday president-elect Htin Kyaw’s list of nominees for members of his cabinet, including Aung San Suu Kyi who could run four ministries, ensuring that her voice will dominate the country’s major policy decisions.
The list includes the names of 18 people—a mix of career bureaucrats, lawmakers and military officers—who would take office in 21 leadership positions when the National League for Democracy (NLD) party formally takes power on April 1. The NLD, however, has not made it clear which post will go to which designated minister.
NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, who is prohibited from becoming president by a constitutional clause barring anyone with foreign relatives from assuming the nation’s top office, has been put forward to lead the foreign affairs, education, electric power and energy, and President’s Office ministries, according to local media reports. The NLD has not confirmed the reports.
“I am announcing now the appointment of these nominees as Union ministers because there are no motions to reject them,” said Mahn Win Khaing Than, speaker of the upper house. He also announced a list of nominees for the Constitutional Tribunal, a nine-member panel of legal experts who serve five-year terms. The list will be approved on March 28 as long as no rejections are submitted, he said.
Kyaw Win, an NLD lawmaker who is an adviser to the party’s economics committee, was approved for a ministry even after news broke on Wednesday that he holds a doctorate degree from a fake online university created by a Pakistani group that was exposed as a fraud in 2015. He has been earmarked for the highly important finance and planning ministry, according to local media.
However, Nyo Nyo Thin, a former member of parliament, pointed out that lawmakers must submit their biographies with accurate and true facts or be subject to punishment under the law.
“It is very important with regard to the appointment of a finance minister because this is very important for the country,” he said. “We want a finance minister who is honest and reliable. [Lawmakers] should reconsider whether the candidates are suitable for these posts even though they may have made honest mistakes in their bios.”
Zaw That Htwe, a former political prisoner, editor and journalist, said the appointment of ministers with questionable backgrounds could hurt the NLD’s credibility.
“Although the nominees as union ministers are approved, the NLD would have difficulties gaining the people’s trust because of questions surrounding the ministers’ honesty and attitudes,” he said. “If they did something wrong, the media and people would attack them based on this, so it could also harm the NLD government’s dignity.”
Changes in store
Some of the ministerial nominees have plans for major changes in store to move the country towards further development and democracy after more than five decades of military rule.
Win Myat Aye, an upper house lawmaker who would likely take over as mister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, said: “We must be free of corruption and operate with great capability.”
Journalist Pe Myint, who has been nominated to lead the information ministry, told RFA that the NLD-led government will reform the media by changing the content of government-run newspapers and radio stations.
“As we [journalists] are the ones who want media freedom very much and who have been working for media freedom, our attitude has not changed,” he said. “I will work so that journalists do not get arrested and that the ones already in jail on charges can be released.”
His words came on the same day that rights group Amnesty International issued a report calling on the new government to immediately release all political detainees when it takes office on April 1, a reminder of the pressure the NLD government is under to make speedy progress with democratic change.
The report, based on interviews with journalists, lawyers, rights activists, prisoners of conscience, students and labor organizers, documents how authorities in Myanmar have conducted a widespread crackdown on their opponents to silence dissent in the past two years.
“This could be the start of a new dawn for human rights in Myanmar, but the task facing Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy is huge – they have to ensure that their actions are not controlled by the repressive laws they will inherit,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South East Asia director, in a news release.
“Despite their landslide election win, Myanmar’s flawed constitution will also ensure that the military still wields considerable power,” she said referring to the NLD’s sweeping victory in general elections last November.
The NLD, which reduced the overall number of national ministries to 21 from 36 to rein in the country’s bloated bureaucracy, also is considering minimizing the size of regional governments, said party spokesman Zaw Myint Maung.
“We believe that we can reduce the number of regional ministers if the [reduced number of] Union ministers can work effectively,” he told RFA. “It’s certain that we will have fewer ministers now that we have fewer ministries than we did before.”
In a related development, Aung San Suu Kyi met with 22 lawmakers from the Arakan National Party (ANP) on Thursday in the capital Naypyidaw to confirm that the new chief minister in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state will be an NLD member, said Win Htein, a member of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee.
President-elect Htin Kyaw, who has the authority to nominate chief ministers and their cabinet members, has put forward Nyi Pu, an NLD lawmaker who represents Rakhine’s Gwa township, as the state’s chief minister.
“We said that Nyi Pu of the NLD will become the chief minister of Rakhine State in accordance with the constitution,” Win Htein told RFA. “We also clearly told them that there will be not only NLD members, but also people from the ANP and other academics in the Rakhine state government.”
Members of the ANP, the state’s strongest local ethnic political party, and their supporters have demanded for months that they be allowed to choose their chief minister from within their own political ranks.
The ANP, which represents the interests of the predominantly Buddhist, ethnic Rakhine majority living in the state and in the Yangon region, threatened in January to oppose the NLD if it did not get its way.
About 500 people marched though the state capital Sittwe on Wednesday, calling for the right to select their chief minister.
Aung San Suu Kyi agreed that three ANP leaders should hold meetings next week with three NLD representatives to discuss the formation of Rakhine’s government, said ANP lawmaker Khin Saw Wai.
“We will have a result that people want,” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rakhine leaders with whom she met also agreed on how they will work together to foster development in the impoverished state and resolve its religious, social and business challenges, Win Htein said.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Win Ko Ko Latt, Tin Aung Khine, Thinn Thiri, Set Paing Toe and Wai Mar Tun. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.