Hopes fade for Suu Kyi deal as Myanmar hastens presidential vote

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Aung San Suu Kyi, 70, is barred from Myanmar's presidency by a constitution that thwarts her ambition to lead the country away from decades of military rule

Aung San Suu Kyi, 70, is barred from Myanmar's presidency by a constitution that thwarts her ambition to lead the country away from decades of military rule (AFP Photo/Ye Aung Thu)

Myanmar's parliament will bring forward a vote for the next president to March 10, it was announced Tuesday, leaving little time for Aung San Suu Kyi to strike a deal to let her take the top office.

The country's democracy figurehead is currently banned from becoming president under the junta-era constitution.

Suu Kyi has held several rounds of closed-door talks with the powerful military since her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won crushing victory at elections in November.

Observers say the talks were likely aimed at testing the military's appetite for a constitutional change to allow Suu Kyi to the top job, a post many of Myanmar's people see as her destiny.

But news that the presidential vote has been brought forward by one week suggests negotiations have failed to reach a deal to clear her path to power.

"We are going to hold the meetings... for MPs to be able to elect the president and vice presidents on March 10, Thursday, a week earlier than was previously announced," Win Khaing Than, speaker of Myanmar's combined houses of parliament, told lawmakers Tuesday.

The handover from a half century of military rule to a popularly elected government has been complex and drawn out -- and the army will continue to play a major role.

It is still unclear who will take over on March 31 from President Thein Sein, the former general who has steered dramatic reforms since 2011.

The main figures at the talks have in public tip-toed around the leadership issue.

In typically cryptic comments on Tuesday, NLD spokesman Win Htein said the party stood behind an eventual Suu Kyi presidency.

"Aung San Suu Kyi must become the president... it just depends on whether it is earlier or later," he told reporters in the capital Naypyidaw.

- Guessing game -

Clause 59 (f) of the current constitution bars those with foreign children or spouses from the top office. Suu Kyi's late husband was British, as are her two sons.

Shortly before November's landslide win, Suu Kyi pledged to rule "above" whoever succeeds Thein Sein.

Experts have so far been surprised by the relatively smooth passing of power from the military to a party led by its one-time nemesis Suu Kyi.

But the army retains sweeping political and economic powers. It is allocated a quarter of all parliamentary seats and will choose one of three candidates for president.

The other two candidates will be chosen by the elected members of the lower and upper houses, which are dominated by the NLD.

The new president will emerge from a vote by the combined houses.

Speculation has swirled around who that could be.

Tin Oo, the NLD's near 90-year-old patron, has repeatedly tried to swat away suggestions that he could take the job.

Suu Kyi's loyal personal doctor Tin Myo Win and a leader of Suu Kyi's charitable foundation Htin Kyaw have also been tipped for the post.

Even the junta's former number three Shwe Mann, has been linked to the role.

None carry the prestige of Suu Kyi, who is revered as the daughter of the country's independence hero as well as for her democracy struggle.

In a sign of the clout she carries within her party, Suu Kyi on Tuesday apparently chided some of her MPs over poor test scores in an exam to get them into shape for parliament.

"Some MPs were sad because they were scolded," said an NLD lawmaker who asked not to be named.

"But we are used to it as we have been scolded many times in the past," he told AFP, adding that the presidential nomination was not discussed.