Myanmar has moved up the date for members of parliament to nominate presidential candidates to March 10, signaling a faster tempo for the transition of political power to the incoming government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) after its November election victory.
The vote, which was originally scheduled for March 17, will see elected deputies in the NLD-dominated lower and upper houses and appointed military legislators nominate a candidate for president. A parliamentary vote by all MPs will determine the winner, who will assume the nation’s top office, while the two runners-up who will become vice presidents.
Win Khaing Than, speaker of Myanmar’s combined houses of parliament, announced that lawmakers would discuss the selection of presidential nominees at their March 10 session. He did not state a reason for the date change.
“The names of lawmakers must be submitted on that day to the presidential nominees scrutinizing committee so they can look though the nominees’ resumes as required” before the candidates are approved and put to the vote, he announced in parliament.
The announcement of the date change followed a meeting by the NLD’s 15-member central executive committee on Sunday.
Political observers believe that NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, who sits on the committee, and other party members have been working behind the scenes to try to forge a deal with the powerful military that would allow her to become president.
“Aung San Suu Kyi will surely become the president.” NLD party spokesman Win Htein told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s just a matter of time whether it’s earlier or later.”
“Read the constitution thoroughly,” he said. “Read the bylaws. We are working hard for her to become president.”
Foreign minister post
But Win Htein said the NLD’s central executive committee members did not discuss constitutional article 59(f), which prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.
The article, which the military junta that controlled the country included in the constitution when it was drafted in 2008, bars anyone with close foreign relatives from holding the office. Aung San Suu Kyi’s two sons are British citizens, as was her late husband.
Although she still has not named the candidate that her party will endorse as president, she has stated publicly that she will occupy a position above the president.
A report in the Myanmar Times on Tuesday said Aung San Suu Kyi would likely assume the post of foreign minister, which would give her a seat on the National Defense and Security Council.
In the months prior to the election, Aung San Suu Kyi had led efforts to change the constitution so that she could become president and to limit the legislative veto power of military deputies, who control one-fourth of the seats in parliament.
Although Aung San Suu Kyi has had several private meetings with military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing since the NLD won the general elections by a landslide last November, the military remains staunchly opposed to amending or suspending article 59(f).
Army officers are not the only ones against the move. Buddhist nationalists and their supporters held a demonstration in the commercial capital Yangon on Sunday, urging lawmakers not to amend the article.
Ready for the president
Khin Saw Wai, a deputy from the Arakan National Party (ANP), told the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar before Tuesday’s parliamentary meeting that the presidential election could be held earlier than scheduled because citizens are ready to know who their next leader will be and because military representatives are ready to submit their nomination to parliament.
Others, however, say Aung San Suu Kyi wanted to speed up the process to end disagreements between the NLD and the military over amending the constitution and to prepare for the new government.
“Moving the date forward means the NLD will no longer pursue its strategy to suspend article 59(f),” ANP deputy Pe Than told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The military chief had told them to go by the constitution, and the military MPs also had shown their disapproval during a recent parliamentary session.”
“So, the NLD is giving up its call to have the article suspended because there is too much opposition from the government and the military, [and it wants] to pave the way for a quick transition,” he said.
Lamar Naw Aung, a lawmaker from the Kachin Democratic Party (KDP), agreed.
“Now that [parliament] has moved the date forward, I’m thinking that Aung San Suu Kyi has dropped the idea” of having article 59(f) changed or suspended, he said.
“I think the date has been moved forward because her discussions on this with the military chief didn’t go well,” he said.
Thein Tun a lawmaker from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said the current USDP government and incoming NLD government must carry out the handover of power according to the constitution.
“This transition time is so delicate, and it would be better for the stability of the Hluttaw [parliament], the government and the country if it goes smoothly,” he said.
“We will immediately have to discuss their [the NLD’s] motions and proposals among our members all the time and look for the best options in the interests of the people and make suggestions,” he added.
The presidential swearing in ceremony will take place on March 31. Afterwards, the president will select his cabinet, which will take over from current President Thein Sein’s outgoing administration the following day.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt, Myo Thant Khine and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.