Myanmar sets sights on naming new president

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD will have to share power with the military-backed ruling USDP

Myanmar’s National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the opening of the new parliament in Naypyitaw. Lawmakers  will form Myanmar’s ruling party, with enough seats to choose the first democratically elected government since the military took power in 1962. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Myanmar’s National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the opening of the new parliament in Naypyitaw. Lawmakers will form Myanmar’s ruling party, with enough seats to choose the first democratically elected government since the military took power in 1962. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

 

After an historic day yesterday when pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi entered Myanmar’s parliament, the southeast Asian nation focused on appointing its new president later this month.

Ms Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest after her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won an election in 1990 only to see the result annulled by the military junta that had ruled the country since 1962.

Now the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is poised to lead the country’s first democratically elected government in more than 50 years, following the NLD’s landslide victory in the most recent election, in November.

However, under the terms of the constitution written by the military government, Ms Suu Kyi will have to share power with the military-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is led by retired soldiers.

In a rule clearly targeting her, Ms Suu Kyi is not allowed to become president because her children are technically foreigners.

Ms Suu Kyi has said she will be “above the president” and in complete control of the government, but details of how this will work in practice are not clear.

Optimism

Myanmar

“Today is a most special day. We can finally start to implement our dreams and make them come true,” Daw Khin San Hlaing, an NLD deputy of the lower house, told the Myanmar Times.

The NLD previously had a landslide win in 1990, but the junta annulled the poll and Ms Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for 15 of the next 22 years.

The reform process started in 2011, when the military leader and current president Thein Sein started to open up the country, but the shift to democracy has required a delicate balancing act.

There is speculation that the army may possibly change the constitution to allow Ms Suu Kyi to take up the post.

The winner will form the first democratic government in Myanmar for more than 50 years.

In the country’s biggest city Yangon (formerly Rangoon), people were emotional as they watched the leader known popularly as “The Lady” take her seat.

“This is a very big day for us. It is a very emotional day. Everybody likes her, you know. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like her,” said one young man watching in a local hotel.

Stopgap president

Among the names being mentioned are U Tin Oo (88), who is one of the few NLD members who previously served in office, having been defence minister and commander-in-chief until a purge in 1976.

The shift to democracy in the nation of 51.5 million people has been slow.

Even the opening of parliament has been a protracted affair. Yesterday only the lower house, the Pyithu Hluttaw, opened, while the Amyotha Hluttaw upper house opens on February 2nd. The combined union parliament, or the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, then meets on February 8th.

Complex process

Each of the parliament’s two chambers pick a presidential candidate and the military officials, who hold a quarter of seats, will also put forward their own nominee.

A combined session of the chambers then votes on the three candidates. The winner will become president, with the other two serving as vice presidents.

As well as forming a new government, Ms Suu Kyi will also be expected to try to resolve a number of ethnic rebellions around the country.

While the junta had signed peace deals with some groups, some of the biggest ethnic revolts are still raging, and she will need to find a way to bring peace to the war-torn ethnic states such as the Shan State in the east or Rakhine in the west, where the Rohingya Muslims face attacks by the Buddhist majority.