Myanmar still in the dark over who will be President

Ms Suu Kyi and NLD senior leader Zaw Myint Maun arriving at the Parliament in Naypyitaw last Tuesday. Three names will be proposed in Parliament for the office of President tomorrow.
Ms Suu Kyi and NLD senior leader Zaw Myint Maun arriving at the Parliament in Naypyitaw last Tuesday. Three names will be proposed in Parliament for the office of President tomorrow.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Speculation remains rife about candidates for top post up to eve of nominations

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's iron grip on the National League for Democracy (NLD) is evident ahead of the nomination of the party's candidates for President and Vice-Presidents tomorrow, but the selections remain a mystery.

In the capital, government officials who have barely three weeks left in office are frantically trying to finish projects as uncertainty looms. Equally, though, major decisions appear on hold until the new government takes power on April 1.

Myanmar has never undergone a transition of this sort, and the NLD has said it will cut the number of government ministries from 36 to 21 or 22. Among those set to go are six under the President's Office which will be merged into one, NLD Central Executive Committee member Win Htein has said.

The NLD plans to be inclusive: Only 30 to 40 per cent of the next Cabinet will comprise NLD members, with the rest of the portfolios to be held by technocrats, experts or figures from other political parties, he said. The army, under the 2008 military-era Constitution, will appoint ministers for home, border affairs and immigration.

That still leaves the identity of the next President a mystery. The NLD is holding its cards so close to its chest that it is fuelling "unhelpful speculation'', said Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey.

  • The contenders

  • Political punditry is in overdrive in Myanmar as the country heads towards a watershed - the naming of a presidential candidate from the National League for Democracy (NLD). Among the names that have been doing the rounds, the main ones are:

    TIN MYO WIN, 64

    He has been Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's personal doctor and was one of the few people allowed to see her during her years under house arrest. He heads the NLD's National Health Network and has accompanied Ms Suu Kyi at talks with armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing.

    HTIN KYAW, 69 (above)

    The son of prominent writer and intellectual Min Thu Wun, he is a party veteran and old friend of Ms Suu Kyi's. His wife Su Su Lwin, too,  is close to Ms Suu Kyi, and is herself the daughter of a former army colonel who was an early member of the NLD.

    MYO AUNG, 65

    The former army doctor is an MP and part of the NLD's transition team.

    TIN MAR AUNG, late 40s

    Also a doctor, she comes from a prominent ethnic Rakhine political family and has been Ms Suu Kyi's personal assistant, confidante, major domo and gatekeeper for several years. Nirmal Ghosh

 The speculation permeates government offices in the sprawling capital built by the former junta. Even as officials worked on their files and computers yesterday, there was an air of uncertainty.

"We don't know what is going to happen,'' said one official on condition of anonymity. "The NLD has not revealed any of its plans.''

 He looked around him and said with a laugh: "Who knows, maybe this ministry will be wound up.''

Mr Win Htein, defending the party's silence, told The Straits Times on the phone: "This is the first time a democratic government is going to be taking power in this country. We don't want to rock the boat. We want everything neat and tidy. Timing is key.''

 Three names will be proposed in Parliament tomorrow, one each by the Upper and Lower Houses, and one by the army, which controls 25 per cent of parliamentary seats.

Ms Suu Kyi's name will not be among them because the Constitution bars anyone with foreign family connections from holding office. Her late husband was British, and so are her two sons.

 MPs will vote on a date yet to be fixed but likely to be next week. The candidate with the most votes will become President and the other two will be Vice-Presidents. The new government will take power on April 1.

The Vice-Presidents sit on the National Defence and Security Council, but otherwise have largely ceremonial duties.

The army has been equally cagey about its candidate. There is speculation that incumbent Vice-President Nyan Tun may be nominated again, but several other potential candidates have been mentioned in feverish media speculation. What is certain is that the candidate will be the personal pick of the armed forces commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Analysts say the shadow of 1990 - when the military did not allow the NLD to take power after it won elections - still haunts the party, which is reluctant to take anything for granted.

Mr Win Htein agreed it was a factor, saying: "We are not nervous. But we are being very careful.''

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Myanmar still in the dark over who will be President'. Print Edition | Subscribe