Myanmar on edge as long wait for new president ends

Myanmar on edge as long wait for new president ends
PHOTO: Reuters

NAYPYITAW - Four months after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a crushing electoral victory over a government made up of former generals, Myanmar's citizens should finally find out who their new president will be on Thursday.

It won't be Suu Kyi. The NLD leader and Nobel peace prize laureate is barred from holding the office under a junta-drafted 2008 constitution because her children are not Myanmar citizens.

The wildly popular Suu Kyi has said that she will run the country regardless through a proxy she would name as president. But she and the NLD leadership have kept the identity of their nominee a closely guarded secret even from rank-and-file MPs.

They have done so partly out of fear a rushed and overly enthusiastic reaction to the election victory could put the sensitive transition at risk. In 1990, the military tossed out results of an election that the NLD won and remained in power.

Suu Kyi has repeatedly said she hoped to reach a compromise with the armed forces that would allow her to assume the presidency.

But talks since the election to bridge the differences failed, sources in her camp said, leading to a deepening rift between Suu Kyi and the military.

The secrecy has fuelled a presidential guessing game in a country keen to see the NLD, many of whose members were jailed during years of military rule, complete its transition from democracy movement to ruling party.

Lawmakers from the NLD-dominated parliament that sat for the first time on Feb. 1, said on Wednesday they were eager for the nomination process to get under way. "It is a very big change, like the Magna Carta," said Myint Lwin, a lower house lawmaker from the NLD. "I'm proud to be involved in this history."

Speculation on the NLD presidential nominee has ranged from Suu Kyi's personal physician to her chief-of-staff. In recent days, it has focused on her close friend Htin Kyaw. He runs the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity to assist people in Myanmar's poorest areas founded by Suu Kyi and named after her mother.


Three presidential candidates will be nominated on Thursday - one by the lower house, one by the upper house, and one by the military bloc in parliament. The constitution gives the armed forces a quarter of seats in both houses.

"We will propose the vice presidential candidates tomorrow in both Pyithu and Amyotha Hluttaw," said NLD spokesman Dr Zaw Myint Maung referring to Myanmar parliament's lower and upper house chambers.

Because the NLD has a comfortable majority in both chambers it will effectively control two of the nominations, with the party's second pick widely expected to be a representative of one of Myanmar's ethnic minorities.

The two losing nominees become vice presidents, meaning that a nominee from an ethnic party would be proposed with that role in mind in line with Suu Kyi's goal of forming a government for national reconciliation.

Local media have named Thet Swe, a former navy chief who stepped down last year to run in the election representing the far flung Coco Islands, as one of the possible nominees for the military.

The three nominees do not need to be lawmakers, but they will be vetted by a parliamentary commission.

After that, both houses of parliament will come together for a joint session to vote on the presidency.

The NLD's huge majority means that whichever candidate it backs as president will win.

The president picks the cabinet that will take over from President Thein Sein's outgoing government on April 1, with the exception of the heads of the home, defence and border security ministries who will be appointed by the armed forces chief.

There was confusion among members of parliament on Wednesday over how soon the presidential vote would take place.

A director from the parliament told Reuters that the vote would not be held until at least Monday.

New NLD members of parliament said they remained in the dark over who would be nominated. "We only have the news from Facebook," said Sein Mya Aye, a lower house NLD lawmaker.

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