After the oath of Htin Kyaw, the first democratically elected president of Myanmar after 56 years of military dictatorship, continues the path of change in the country of Southeast Asia.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), of which the new government is a direct expression, could not assume the role of prime minister because of a constitutional provision which was introduced by the junta military to avoid the risk of her coming to power. The “Steel Orchid”, however, since the election campaign ended with the last November elections, had promised the citizens of Myanmar that, if victorious, she would have ruled the country “above” the President.
To enable her to fulfill this commitment, the new Parliament has created an ad hoc position for San Suu Kyi, assigning her the role of the State Consultant. In this official position, the party leader can directly contact and summon ministers, departments, organizations, associations and individuals to discuss the main of government agenda. A role that, in fact, allows Suu Kyi to rule indirectly, through the “delegate” President Htin Kyaw.
One of the first issues on which Aung San Suu Kyi intends to assert its weight is that of political prisoners. Last Thursday the Nobel prize, with a post on Facebook, has stated his intention to push for a mass amnesty that allows the release of political prisoners, activists and students imprisoned by the military junta in recent years.
The arbitrary imprisonment of thousands of activists for democracy has been a dramatic constant during the decades of dictatorship, and the same Suu Kyi had been living for 15 years under house arrest. Many of the recently elected MPs, as well, have tried the hard repression of the regime and the hardships of prison life.
The semi-civilian transition government, which was in power from 2011 to 2015, had already granted the freedom to hundreds of political prisoners, but it is estimated that there are still 90 imprisoned activists and another 400 awaiting trial. About 70 of these are students arrested before last November’s elections, charged of having participated in illegal meetings or taking part, in March 2015, in the street protests against the educational reform, harshly repressed by the police. After more than a year, the trials in many cases have yet to come to sentence.
The decisive initiative of Suu Kyi, which portends a direct intervention, in short, by the prime minister Kyaw, could push the prosecutor to drop the charges against the students. But the difficulties are still many, considering the deep inefficiency of the judicial system in Myanmar.
The first problem, again, is represented by the army, to which the current constitution guarantees a quarter of parliamentary seats and the control of some of the most important ministries. The power of the military, in Myanmar, has been mutilated but is still strong and widespread. Every democratic reform will inevitably have to deal with its opposition.