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Suu Kyi's state counsellor bill passes vote despite military protest

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military lawmakers made clear their opposition to a bill to create a powerful new presidential advisory role for Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday by refusing to take part in a lower house of parliament vote on it.

Myanmar's NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi smiles with army members during the handover ceremony of outgoing President Thein Sein and new President Htin Kyaw at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ye Aung Thu/Pool

The bill, which creates a state counsellor position enabling Suu Kyi to work in both in the executive and legislative branches of government, passed in the lower house but not before raising tension between the military and Suu Kyi’s party.

“The term ‘state counsellor’ in the name of the bill is tantamount to mean that he or she can exercise both the executive and legislative powers, therefore it is against the constitutional provisions,” said military member of the lower house Brigadier General Maung Maung.

He was reiterating the concern voiced by military members of the upper house on Monday that the bill was unconstitutional.

“It is important to make sure this bill is in conformity with the constitution,” he said.

Suu Kyi, who led her National League for Democracy to a sweeping election victory in November, is barred from becoming president under the military-drafted constitution because her children are not Myanmar citizens.

She has vowed to govern from “above the president”.

Under the constitution, the military, which ruled for nearly 50 years after seizing power in 1962, holds a quarter of seats in parliament and three important ministries.

Near the end of the parliamentary session, military lawmakers stood en masse in an apparent sign of protest against the bill’s passage.

Lower house speaker Win Myint, admonished the officers, telling them to be seated and that they already had a chance to discuss the bill.

The bill will make its way to the president’s office, where it is likely to be quickly signed into law by President Htin Kyaw, a handpicked confidant of Suu Kyi.

Earlier, during a meeting of the parliament’s combined houses, two new cabinet ministers were approved.

Suu Kyi, who originally held four cabinet positions when the government took power on Friday, relinquished the energy and electric power and education portfolios.

Myo Then Gyi, a former rector of the University of West Yangon, was confirmed as minister of education.

Pe Zin Tun, a civil servant who served in the energy ministry under the previous government, will lead the reorganized ministry of energy and electric power.

Suu Kyi retained the foreign affairs portfolio and the role of minister of the president’s office.

The Nobel laureate was set to hold her first official meeting as foreign minister with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, later on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Robert Birsel