Next Myanmar president to be elected parliamentarian

Monday, January 31, 2011

NAYPYITAW - Myanmar’s next president will be an elected member of parliament, ruling out the country’s current military supremo as a candidate, state media announced Monday.

The announcement was made on Myanmar television by General Shwe Mann — the third most powerful person in the country’s ruling junta — who was voted speaker of the lower house earlier in the day at the first session of parliament since the Nov 7 polls.

“The president, vice president and all cabinet members in the coming government will be elected members of parliament,” Shwe Mann said.

Earlier Monday, Shwe Mann was elected lower house speaker while Khin Aung Myint, another general and the current culture minister, was voted upper house speaker.

Voting by the two chambers was dominated by the military through the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won 77 percent of the contested seats, and 166 military-appointed legislators, who account for 25 percent of the votes.

Civilians were elected as vice speakers.

“On Tuesday, we will nominate three presidential candidates,” one legislator said. It is unclear when the parliament will vote on the president.

It was previously widely speculated that Senior General Than Shwe, Myanmar’s junta chief since 1992, aspired to the presidency.

But Shwe Mann’s announcement excluded him as a candidate, since Than Shwe, who turns 78 Wednesday, did not contest the general election.

It is still believed that Than Shwe will attempt to control the next government by staying on as army commander-in-chief, analysts said.

Monday’s parliamentary session was indicative of the “discipline-flourishing democracy” Than Shwe has promised to bring about in past speeches.

The session was held amid tight security. Barricades were in place on roads leading to the massive 100-million-dollar parliament compound in Naypyitaw, 350 km north of Yangon.

Legislators were escorted to the site by plainclothes policemen.

Military appointees make up 25 percent of lawmakers in the three chambers, giving the military bloc veto power over any future legislation.

The stage-managed November general elections, part of Than Shwe’s seven-step road to democracy, were condemned by Western democracies for being neither free nor fair.

Only the upper and lower houses meet in Naypyitaw this week. The regional and state parliaments will meet separately in their own capitals.

The likeliest candidate for president is now believed to Thein Sein, the current prime minister, since Shwe Mann has been named lower house speaker. Both Thein Shwe and Shwe Mann ran under the USDP banner.

“I think Than Shwe may feel that Thein Sein is more malleable than Shwe Mann,” said Win Min, a US-based Myanmar researcher. “He may also feel that Thein Sein may be more credible as president since Thein Sein’s family is much less corrupt than Shwe Mann’s family.”

The new president will select the next cabinet, which is expected to be packed with USDP members, and sit on the National Defence and Security Council, which will control the military.

The commander-in-chief will also sit on the council, a new entity in Myanmar’s political scene.

“This council is more powerful than the president on security issues and the commander-in-chief is more powerful in this council than the president, having more active military votes,” Win Min said.

“The council can declare state of emergency, suspend cabinet/parliament and appoint a new commander-in-chief.”

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