Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party on Wednesday distanced itself from reports that it may back the ruling party’s chief Shwe Mann as a presidential candidate in next year’s general election.
Aung San Suu Kyi said a Reuters news agency report indicating party support for Shwe Mann—the current speaker of the lower house with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and former number three in the country’s military regime—was “incorrect.”
Other senior NLD officials said that the party would not support any form of rule that comes from a military-backed government and that it would consider backing a non-NLD candidate if the person’s views represented the party’s interests.
Earlier on Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported that the NLD planned to enter the 2015 parliamentary election “with no candidate for president,” citing party officials, one of whom had said it might even support Shwe Mann.
Reuters said Aung San Suu Kyi was “apparently unwilling to give her blessing to an alternative candidate from within her own party” and cited NLD executive committee member Nyan Win as saying that Shwe Mann, while controversial, may be the most viable candidate for the party to support.
The report also cited Han Tha Myint, another member of the NLD's executive committee, as saying that the party would support a non-NLD candidate who shared its views, without specifying who that candidate might be.
Later on Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi denied that the two senior NLD members had suggested the party would back Shwe Mann.
“They didn’t say it like that. The news is incorrect. Please read the news carefully. After you read it, then ask the concerned people [Nyan Win and Han Tha Myint],” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“The news I saw wasn’t like that. The persons concerned have already spoken. You can ask them [what they said].”
Myanmar’s Eleven news media quoted Aung San Suu Kyi as saying that “she found the statements and the controversial way they were strung together unbelievable.”
“I don’t believe it,” Eleven quoted the NLD leader as saying in reference to the Reuters report.
Nyan Win told RFA on Wednesday that he was confused about why the report suggested he had said the NLD would back Shwe Mann.
“The reporter asked me something about that and I replied to him that it was impossible, because neither the people nor the NLD like to see generals change from their military uniforms into civilian dress, but he wrote that the NLD supports Shwe Mann for president in the 2015 election,” he said.
“As NLD members, how could we support another person for presidency? We wouldn’t support the kind of governance system that comes from a military government.”
The NLD has been calling for a number of amendments to articles in the junta-backed 2008 constitution it views as undemocratic, including to Article 59(F), which prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her two sons are not citizens of Myanmar.
Nyan Win said that the NLD has considered someone from the party to run as a presidential candidate in next year’s election if the article is not amended and Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from running.
‘No second person’
Han Tha Myint told Eleven that he never mentioned Shwe Mann’s name during his interview with Reuters, saying only that the NLD would consider supporting a nonparty candidate if the person’s views aligned with its views.
“They asked who will be the presidential candidate for the NLD if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still blocked by [Article] 59(F). There is no second person beside her in the NLD,” the report quoted him as saying.
“Then, they asked who the NLD will nominate. I said the candidate for president does not need to be an MP; he or she might be from any political party. He doesn’t need to be from the NLD.”
Speaking to the Democratic Voice of Burma, Han Tha Myint said that while backing another party is conceivable in the absence of a popular and eligible contender, the media may have jumped the gun.
“It’s a hypothetical situation right now and I don’t want to speculate,” he told the Voice.
The NLD urged Reuters on Wednesday to resolve the discrepancy in its report.
USDP lawmaker Zaw Myint Pe also questioned the report, saying that his party had not even made a decision on who it would put forward as a candidate for the nation’s top post.
“The upcoming election is still one year away from now—we haven’t even considered who will be chosen as a presidential candidate for our party. Ahead of the election we must hold a party conference, during which we will discuss the issue,” he told RFA.
“I don’t think that information [about backing Shwe Mann] was officially announced by the NLD.”
Next year’s parliamentary elections will be the first since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took power from the former military regime in 2011, initiating sweeping democratic reforms that have been widely lauded in the West.
It will also mark the first general elections to be contested by the NLD, which won a 1990 vote in a landslide victory that the military refused to accept. A 2010 election was boycotted by the NLD while Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest.
The NLD enjoys a huge popular following, but must contend with the military-backed USDP in parliament, which chooses the president under Myanmar’s political system. A clause in the country’s charter guarantees that 25 percent of the seats in the lower house are filled by military MPs.
Shwe Mann and Aung San Suu Kyi have cooperated in parliament, and the former general has suggested he would cooperate with the NLD leader if the constitution was amended to allow her to run and she was to win the presidency.
However, despite an NLD petition calling for the removal of an effective military veto over changes to the charter which garnered five million signatures, the USDP appears unlikely to support the move, meaning it is highly unlikely that Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to contend the presidency.
Another clause in the charter, Article 59(D), states that the president of Myanmar “shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic, and military.”
The article is widely interpreted to mean that the president would have had to have served in Myanmar’s army, which Aung San Suu Kyi has not done.
Reported by Myo Thant Khine and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.