Finally, the NLD embraces succession planning

Significant changes have been made to ruling National League for Democracy in recent weeks, including naming a potential successor to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader.


THE CONFIRMATION on March 28 of former Pyithu Hluttaw speaker U Win Myint as the nation’s new president – its 10th head of state since independence in 1948 – has already resulted in some significant political developments.

On April 11, President Win Myint held separate meetings with the Anti-Corruption Commission and with the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court. He told commission members to be resolute in fighting corruption, and not be deterred if it involved powerful figures. At the meeting with the judges, he called for judicial impartiality and swift trials.

In a speech to the nation on April 17 marking the traditional New Year, he unveiled an 11-point reform agenda that included judicial reform and tackling corruption. The meetings and the speech highlighted a key difference between Win Myint and his predecessor, U Htin Kyaw, who was regarded as a ceremonial president.

But another recent significant development that gained much less publicity was the appointment of Win Myint as deputy chairman-1 of the ruling National League for Democracy. Referring to the appointment in a speech marking the second anniversary of the NLD government, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, said the party was handing over to a second generation of leaders, including Win Myint, 66.

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The March 24 appointments of Win Myint as NLD deputy chairman-1 and Mandalay Region Chief Minister Dr Zaw Myint Maung, 66, as deputy chairman-2 were unprecedented because such party positions never previously existed. The party also named veteran members U Win Htein, U Ohn Kyaing, U Kyaw Khin and Mahn Johnny as patrons. They join U Tin Oo and U Hla Pe and bring the number of patrons to six. Another change was the designation of Zaw Myint Maung and Dr Myo Nyunt as NLD spokespersons.

Win Myint’s appointment to his newly-created party role is of special significance because it is the first time the NLD has indicated a potential successor to Aung San Suu Kyi as its leader. It answers a question that many in Myanmar and abroad have pondered for many years about succession planning in the NLD.

The appointment of Zaw Myint Maung as deputy chairman-2 is also significant, because both Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi are cabinet members and so cannot be involved in party affairs.

When Aung San Suu Kyi formed the government in March 2016 she left party matters in the hands of the five-member secretariat: Win Htein, Win Myint, Zaw Myint Maung, U Nyan Win and U Han Tha Myint.

The authority of each secretariat member was not clearly defined. This resulted in tensions at senior levels of the NLD, particularly after Win Htein travelled to Taunggyi, the Shan State capital, in September 2016, and sacked five party officials from the state-level Central Executive Committee.

The structural change in the NLD means that Zaw Myint Maung, as deputy chairman-2, will take responsibility for party affairs. This should remove the decision-making uncertainty that plagued the party after the five-member secretariat was formed.

The appointment of Win Htein as a patron of the party should remove him as a possible source of further controversy. As one of the party’s elderly patrons his role is to provide advice to the central executive committee, headed by second-generation leaders.

The restructuring of the NLD now needs to be followed up by unveiling short-term and long-term party policies.

It is also important to more clearly set boundaries around the respective responsibilities of the government and the party.

It is longer practical – or legally permissible – for Aung San Suu Kyi to make decisions on everything. It is dangerous both for the party and the country.

The newly appointed, second-generation NLD leaders need to conduct a review of the activities and organisation of the party.

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