Myanmar’s military on Friday nominated the chief minister of Yangon region as its candidate in the upcoming parliamentary vote to determine the country’s top leaders, which could pose a threat to Aung San Suu Kyi’s reform plans for the developing democracy.
Military deputies nominated retired Lieutenant General Myint Swe, the 64-year-old chief minister of Yangon region, who ordered a crackdown on anti-government protests led by monks in 2007, when a military junta ruled the country.
He is currently on the U.S. government’s list of sanctioned individuals for his actions under the military government, which was in power for a half-century until 2011.
“I think they nominated Myint Swe because he has administrative experience as the chief minister of Yangon region for the last five years,” political commentator Yan Myo Thein told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Also, they might think he can work competitively with the president and other vice president over the coming five years.”
The nomination of Myint Swe is a big challenge for the National League for Democracy (NLD), which swept general elections last November, because he will advocate for and protect the interests of the armed forces, he said.
“The NLD government needs to think about this and prepare,” he said.
NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi has made reform and national reconciliation between Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups and the national military priorities under the new government led by her party.
Zagana, a popular comedian and former political prisoner, said the military nominated Myint Swe because it believes he will form a good relationship between the armed forces and the civilian sector, particularly with businesspeople.
“Because Myint Swe controls the 30,000-acre Yangon New City Project, he can protect the interests of businessmen involved in the project better than any other military leader can,” he said.
The controversial expansion project to build seven satellite towns on the outskirts of Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon has undergone several delays and met with opposition after officials cancelled an initial multibillion-dollar contract awarded to Chinese investors in 2014 to develop tens of thousands of acres south of the city.
The incoming NLD-led government will likely decide whether or not to push ahead with the project.
“He knows many top military leaders’ business interests, including those of former Senior General Than Shwe and others, and has a huge connection to businessmen,” Zagana said, referring to the military strongman who was chairman of Myanmar’s State Peace and Development Council from 1992 to 2011.
The military has interests in several businesses throughout the country ranging from property to mining sites through two large holding companies it controls.
But not everyone believes Myint Swe will be good for business in the commercial capital Yangon or for the country as a vice president.
“According to my experience in Yangon’s regional parliament, we could see that Myint Swe, who was nominated as vice president by the military, has little intention to [work towards] reform,” said former independent member of parliament (MP) Nyo Nyo Thin.
“We can see his attitude if we examine city projects in Yangon within last five years,” she said, pointing out that few businesspeople could get permission for projects from the regional government, and that Myint Swe was not close to the media.
“It is a good question as to why Myint Swe was nominated as vice president even though our country needs reforms,” she said.
Nyo Nyo Thin also noted that Myint Swe was responsible for a crackdown on protesters in Yangon, who supported a student movement last year against a controversial national education law.
“The current government believes that the crackdown by men wearing red armbands was done according to the law, but everybody knew it was not,” she said. “I am worried that we would see such things around the country [if Myint Swe became vice president].”
Myint Swe is one of three candidates who have been put forward by the lower and upper houses, and military deputies, who control a quarter of the seats in parliament, for an upcoming vote that will determine who will become president and the two vice presidents.
The NLD, which holds the majority of seats in both houses, on Thursday nominated Htin Kyaw, a long-time aide to Aung San Suu Kyi as its presidential candidate and Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin NLD deputy in parliament’s upper house, as a vice presidential candidate.
NLD candidates confirmed
Also on Friday, the lower house of parliament voted to confirm Htin Kyaw, a close adviser of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Under Myanmar’s indirect political system, whoever gets the most votes becomes president, while the two runners-up are appointed vice presidents.
It is believed that Htin Kyaw will be elected president when the combined, NLD-dominated houses cast votes for the three nominees next week.
NLD party leaders will issue directions tonight or tomorrow night to their lawmakers about how to vote, said NLD deputy Aung Kyi Nyunt.
But some deputies from other parties say the process may not go according to the NLD’s plans.
“Htin Kyaw will definitely become president, but the first vice president could be from the military if the [ruling] union Solidarity and Development party [USDP] and military MPs vote for it,” said Khin Saw Wai, a lawmaker from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.
Ye Tun, a former MP from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, said deputies from the armed forces-backed USDP and military lawmakers could derail the NLD’s plan for Htin Kyaw to become president and Van Thoi to become vice president.
“The USDP’s lawmakers and military MPs can destroy the NLD’s plan,” he said, by voting so that Henry Van Thoi would become president and Htin Kyaw would become vice president.
“It’s not because they like Henry Van Thio, but because they want to disrupt the NLD’s plan,” he said.
After the voting, the president will appoint a new cabinet, which will take over from current President Thein Sein’s administration on April 1.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is barred from becoming president under the constitution which forbids anyone with foreign relatives from holding the nation’s highest office, has said she will occupy a position above the president.
Reported by Thinn Thiri and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.