Friday, August 18, 2017

NLD rallies behind its leader’s proxy choice

UPDATE: Parliament houses confirm NLD nominees

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the two houses of parliament are to vote separately today on their candidates for the presidency, with the NLD’s overwhelming majority ensuring that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s chosen proxy will emerge victorious ahead of a final vote by the combined chambers next week.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi leaves a meeting with MPs in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday evening, after the National League for Democracy unveiled its two presidential mominess. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar TimesDaw Aung San Suu Kyi leaves a meeting with MPs in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday evening, after the National League for Democracy unveiled its two presidential mominess. Photo: Aung Khant / The Myanmar Times

U Htin Kyaw, a trusted aide with apparently no military background and little political experience, was nominated yesterday by the National League for Democracy in the lower house as a candidate for president. Henry Van Thio, a hitherto-obscure ethnic Chin Christian lawmaker, was put forward as a presidential nominee from the upper house.

Four months of uncertainty, secrecy and speculation ended with confirmation that the NLD leader had failed in top-level talks with the military to get around the constitutional provision barring her from the presidency. She will attempt to run the government “above the president”, even while the Tatmadaw controls three key ministries.

U Htin Kyaw: from computer science grad to NLD loyalist

Despite having only 42 MPs following its heavy defeat in last November’s elections, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party made a last defiant gesture by putting forward its own two candidates yesterday.

Sai Mauk Kham, current vice president and an ethnic Shan, was nominated as the USDP lower house candidate, and former speaker U Khin Aung Myint was named as its upper house candidate.

NLD MPs did not hide their disappointment that Myanmar’s voters will not have the politician they wanted as president, even though 69-year-old U Htin Kyaw will become the country’s first elected head of government without a military pedigree since U Nu was ousted by the Tatmadaw in 1962.

“We feel sorry that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could not become president, but we made the best decision to nominate the most suitable person in U Htin Kyaw. We believe he can do the best for the country,” said U Myo Aung, a Pyithu Hluttaw NLD representative and former military doctor who had been tipped as among the front-runners.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not take part in yesterday’s parliamentary session but issued a statement which some read as an admission that the NLD had fallen short during the protracted transition process.

“As we continue to try to realise the people’s desire completely, we’d like to respectfully request people to support and surround us with great wisdom to reach the goal we aim to achieve peacefully. Implementing the people’s will completely is the commitment of the NLD, so we will try our best,” the 70-year-old leader said.

A seven-member parliamentary vetting committee will scrutinise the winning candidates 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 committee is made up of the two Speakers, two deputy speakers and one representative each from the upper house, lower house and the military. The lower house approved U Myo Aung as its representative while U Ba Myo Thein, also an NLD lawmaker, was approved in the upper house. The military nominated General Than Soe.

Under the 2008 constitution written by the former junta, the military bloc holding 25 percent of seats in parliament also appoints one candidate for the presidential contest, guaranteeing the Tatmadaw one of the two vice presidents.

Henry Van Thio: from Chin mountains to high office

Lieutenant Colonel Ye Naing Oo said its nomination had already been submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which would announce the name.

The combined chambers of parliament, which acts as an electoral college, is due to meet next on March 14 when it will confirm the vetting committee. The final vote for president and the two vice presidents may not take place until late next week.

The new president is to take office on March 30 at the end of U Thein Sein’s five-year term. He then appoints his cabinet, with speculation now turning to whether Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will choose an executive position, such as foreign minister.

USDP lawmaker and former military general U Hla Htay Win defended the USDP’s decision to put forward candidates. “We proposed presidential nominees because we want to participate in this process. Moreover we nominated quality candidates who have the ability to work for the sake of the country,” he said.

Asked for his personal view on whether U Htin Kyaw can lead the country, he replied, “I assume he is suitable.” He declined to elaborate on his expectations of the next president, however.

NLD MPs admitted they knew little about U Htin Kyaw but willingly accepted the decision of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, despite the opaque selection process.

Analysis: Outsourcing the presidency – the proxy problem

“I’m so sad but I couldn’t do anything for her. Personally I like U Htin Kyaw as he is an educated man with the qualifications to lead the country,” said Daw Myint Myint Soe.

MPs from other parties said they felt left in the dark.

“I only heard his name, but don’t know anything about him,” said U Kyin Wan, a Pyithu Hluttaw MP of the Wa Democratic Party.

Additional reporting by Pyae Thet Phyo and Swan Ye Htut