Thousands are expected in parliament today to watch the National League for Democracy name its two nominees for the presidency, with a former military doctor now firming as favourite to become Myanmar’s next head of state.
Parliamentarians gathered in Nay Pyi Taw’s municipal guesthouse last night were tipping U Myo Aung, a long-time party member and serving MP, as the party’s likely presidential pick, with U Htin Kyaw a close second.
Party leaders have kept the identity of its presidential nominees a closely guarded secret, with senior official U Win Htein revealing only that the next president’s name comprised two words – ruling out Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is ineligible under the constitution.
There has also been speculation that the NLD could nominate a representative from an ethnic minority party, with U Sai Nyunt Lwin from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy one oft-mentioned candidate.
As he arrived at the guesthouse yesterday evening following an English exam in parliament, U Myo Aung told reporters that the next president would be someone born on a Thursday. According to his parliamentary biography he was born on a Friday, but this did little to dampen speculation.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said only that she will rule above the president, a proxy arrangement that some have cautioned could be unconstitutional and harm the efficacy of the incoming NLD government. She is expected to take a position in the government, as either a minister in the President’s Office or foreign minister.
Yesterday she spent the afternoon in a meeting with the leaders of the party’s state and region branches. Afterward, she led a separate meeting with the party’s central executive committee.
Returning after the CEC meeting, party spokesperson U Zaw Myint Maung refused to comment on the nomination, saying only that he was “very excited” about what would unfold today.
“We have already prepared for the nomination. We want to complete the process peacefully. Please wait and see tomorrow morning. You will know who will be president at 10:15am,” he said.
Although the NLD nominees will be revealed today and the party has the numbers to ensure its pick becomes president, parliamentary sources said the selection process could run through to March 18.
Three candidates will be chosen: one by elected representatives in the lower house, another by elected representatives in the upper house, and a third by appointed military MPs.
Both the upper and lower houses will meet this morning at 10am to hear nominations for the presidency. If a party besides the NLD puts forward a candidate, the nominee will be decided through a vote, most likely tomorrow.
The military will then reveal its presidential candidate to the Py-daungsu Hluttaw, the combined sitting of the upper and lower houses, which is expected to sit either tomorrow or March 14.
The vetting process will then begin. The three nominees will be examined for their eligibility under section 59 of the constitution, which requires them to be over 45, have knowledge of military affairs and no direct relatives who are foreign citizens.
The vetting will be undertaken by a seven-member committee comprising the two Speakers, two deputy speakers and one representative each from the upper house, the lower house and the military. The upper and lower house representatives for the vetting committee will be nominated today after the presidential candidates.
Once the candidates are approved, the president will be selected from among the three nominees by a vote of all MPs, elected and appointed. The runner-up will become the senior vice president and the one in third place will be the junior vice president.
Today’s nomination will take place in front of a packed parliament, with more than 1300 people having applied to attend as observers.
U Hla Moe, secretary of the Pyithu Hluttaw Rights Committee, said the figure a was record, “unprecedented in parliamentary history”.
“It will be a historic day so it is attracting wide attention. It’s really exciting,” he said, adding that 600 journalists were expected to attend.
However, many would not be granted access to the chamber, he said. Both houses have just 450 seats for observers.
“I have 26 guests but only 10 will be given access to the meeting hall,” he said. “The rest will have to watch the event on the television screen.”
The NLD representative said he was so excited and interested in what would unfold that he was “mentally tired”.
“While our party has enough MPs, the military’s nominee could still become president if we make a mistake in voting,” he said. “But we have been trained how to vote.
“What is certain is that tomorrow will be a historic day.”
U Sai Thiha Kyaw from the SNLD said he was interested to see whether party colleague U Sai Nyunt Lwin would be nominated by the NLD, and how this would be handled given he is not a sitting MP.
“Last time, a representative from the political party to nominate the vice president took the paper from the hluttaw speaker. Then, that representative took the paper to the person who would be nominated as vice president to fill in the necessary facts. This is the really suspenseful time, when we are waiting to see who will be chosen,” said U Sai Thiha Kyaw, who is serving a second term in parliament.
Political commentator U Yan Myo Thein said he expected U Myo Aung to be nominated as the NLD’s candidate from the lower house, due to his former military background and position on the party’s power transfer committee.
“He has worked for the military and has enough experience to govern the country,” said U Yan Myo Thein. “Moreover, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will choose someone whom the military can accept. I believe they will prefer someone who has worked for them in the past.
From 1985 to 1988 U Myo Aung served as an army doctor before working in the Ministry of Health. He was suspended in 1991 and joined the NLD five years later. In the 2012 by-election he won the Pyithu Hluttaw seat of Seikkan in Yangon Region. Last November he was re-elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw, winning the seat of East Dagon. After the election he was appointed to the NLD’s transition team.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will also favour someone who has been attached to the party for a long period, through both the good times and bad times,” U Yan Myo Thein said. “If she chose him, there would no arguments within the party. All would be satisfied at this decision.”
Translation by Thiri Min Htun and Zar Zar Soe