Myanmar Presidential Selection Begins This Week

Myanmar Presidential Selection Begins This Week Badges bearing portraits of Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the star and peacock symbol of her party, the National League for Democracy are seen for sale at the NLD headquarters in Yangon, March 8, 2016.

Updated at 10:05 a.m. EST on 3-10-2016

Myanmar’s parliament will begin picking a new president on Thursday as the nation continues its transition from a military dictatorship to a democratically elected government.

While Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won overwhelming victories in both houses of parliament in last year’s elections, the Nobel Prize winner and chairman of the NLD is unlikely to take Myanmar’s highest office.

Her ascension to the presidency is blocked by a constitutional provision passed by the military junta in 2008 that bars people with close foreign relatives from taking the office. Since Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband and two sons are British, NLD leaders have been scrambling to find a way to put her imprimatur on the top job.

Discussions between NLD officials and leaders of the armed forces over ways to modify the constitution or get around the provision apparently ground to a halt when the military refused to go along.

While Aung San Suu Kyi may represent Myanmar’s march to democracy, the military still holds a great amount of power in the country. One-fourth of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, giving it a veto over a constitutional change and the ability to scuttle nearly any policy initiative.

With the military unwilling to make a deal on the constitution, the NLD is attempting to install a candidate willing to be Aung San Suu Kyi’s figurehead. She has stated that she intends to lead from “above the president.”

In Myanmar, the president is selected from three vice-presidents selected by the parliament or Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. The Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) and the Amyotha Hluttaw (upper house) and the military lawmakers separately elect a vice-presidential candidate.

The vice-presidential nominations are then vetted by the Presidential Electoral College Team comprised of the two parliament chairmen, two vice chairmen of parliament, representative members of parliament from both houses and one military member of parliament.

“There won’t be rivals as the NLD will select each vice-president from the lower house and the upper house,” Pe Than, a member of parliament from the Arakan National Party, told RFA’s Myanmar service. “But military MPs will select one vice-president in another place.”

A joint sitting of the entire parliament decides which of the three candidates will become the next president, That means it will take a few days before a president is selected. The two candidates who aren’t selected as president become vice presidents.

“March 12 and 13 are the weekend, so confirmation of the president and vice-presidents cannot be made earlier than 14 March,” U Ko Ko Naing director of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Office told Frontier Myanmar.

No matter who is picked, or what their status is with Aung San Suu Key, that person will be the first to lead a democratically elected government in Myanmar that is untainted by military ties since the 1962 coup that marked the start of authoritarian rule in the country.

That doesn’t mean the military in Myanmar is suddenly powerless. Not only does it control 25 percent of the parliament, but it also controls many key ministries giving it a big say in the way the country is run.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translation by Khet Mar. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of the legal bar preventing Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

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