Suu Kyi's party stays mum on choice for president

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech during the Peace Conference at the Myanmar Convention Center in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Jan 12, 2016.
Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech during the Peace Conference at the Myanmar Convention Center in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Jan 12, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

She is set to be real power behind ceremonial post, for which party has as many as 10 names

The son-in-law of former Myanmar strongman Than Shwe is among the military appointees named to state legislatures and the country's new Parliament, which will convene on Feb 1. Brigadier-General Thein Naing has been appointed to the Yangon legislature.

Under Myanmar's junta-era 2008 Constitution, 25 per cent of seats in both Houses of Parliament and state and regional legislatures are reserved for the military - a footprint that in effect allows it to veto any amendment to the Constitution.

But with a Nov 8 landslide electoral win, the National League for Democracy (NLD) controls both Houses - and now all eyes are on who will be the country's next president.

A clause in the 2008 Constitution bars anyone with family members who are foreign nationals from the post. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi's late husband and their two sons are British citizens, which rules her out.

Her strategy thus far seems to be to outflank the clause. She has said she will be the real power, even "above the president".

POLITICAL ARRANGEMENT

Aung San Suu Kyi has made clear that the next president will largely be in name, a political arrangement that will require the acceptance of the commander-in-chief and the military.

MR NYANTHA MAW LIN, managing director (Myanmar) of consultancy firm Vriens & Partners.

On Jan 13, a Reuters report quoted an unnamed NLD official as saying: "Our choice of president will be only ceremonial and the decisions will be made only by Aung San Suu Kyi."

NLD members are tight-lipped on who will be the party's choice for the essentially ceremonial post. The question is deemed so sensitive that those who spoke to The Sunday Times asked not to be named.

Underlying this is the question of how much power Ms Suu Kyi, 70, will wield and how she wields it, as the military watches closely Myanmar's first civilian government in decades.

"Aung San Suu Kyi has made clear that the next president will largely be in name, a political arrangement that will require the acceptance of the commander-in-chief and the military," Mr Nyantha Maw Lin, managing director (Myanmar) of consultancy firm Vriens & Partners, said in an e-mail to The Sunday Times.

"That is not to downplay the selection of the next president, as he will still have certain powers and roles under the Constitution, including leading the interface with the military within the 11-member National Defence and Security Council."

The president will be chosen in March in a vote by the new MPs. There will be three nominees - one each from the Upper and Lower Houses and one from the military bloc. The two candidates coming in second and third in the vote will become vice-presidents.

Thus the NLD will likely have its own as president and one of the vice-presidents. The military's nominee will most likely take the other vice-president post.

A few names have persistently cropped up amid speculation over the party's candidates for president.

They include Ms Suu Kyi's chief of staff, Dr Tin Mar Aung, and Mr Htin Kyaw, who is the son of a prominent intellectual and whose wife Su Su Lwin is close to Ms Suu Kyi.

The NLD has as many as 10 candidates for president, party spokesman and central executive committee member Nyan Win told Mizzima News this month.

He may be one of them. A legal adviser, he most importantly has Ms Suu Kyi's complete trust.

According to NLD members and political observers, others include Dr Tin Myo Win, Ms Suu Kyi's personal doctor and chair of the party's national health network, and Mr Win Htein, an outspoken central executive committee member. Yet another is party patron and former military commander-in-chief Tin Oo, 90, who has emphatically said he does not want the post.

When asked who the people want for president, Mr Khine Win, 52, who runs a small training centre for civil society groups in Yangon, appeared to sum up the public mood: "In general, people want to change the Constitution to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to take the presidency."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Suu Kyi's party stays mum on choice for president'. Print Edition | Subscribe