Sunday, January 31, 2016

Presidential permutations still a mystery in Myanmar

On Saturday, 30 January 2016

As the military-dominated parliament cedes power to Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party, one fundamental question remains unanswered: Who will be Myanmar's next president?

Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party and, armed with a massive popular mandate from November's election, she is the natural choice to lead the country.

But the democracy figurehead is barred from the presidency by a junta-era constitution.

"The Lady" as she is known in Myanmar has sought to sidestep that problem by vowing to rule "above" a proxy leader, whose identity remains a mystery.


With few clues to go on just days before an expected announcement, here are some names that have spun out in the speculation: 

Tin Oo

The patron of the NLD commands huge respect in Myanmar. He is a founding member of the pro-democracy party following mass protests in 1988 that ended in a bloody crackdown.

Having previously served as the commander of the army under the government of strongman Ne Win, he also has the "defence vision" qualification stipulated for the president in the constitution.

But the frail former political prisoner, who is nearly 90, has shown little enthusiasm to lead the nation, telling the Irrawaddy news website last year: "I have never wanted to be president".

Tin Myo Win

Suu Kyi's charismatic family doctor was one of the few people allowed to see her during her some 15 years of house arrest under the junta.

He heads the NLD National Health Network and remains a close confidant, even attending crucial talks with army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Monday.

But the 64-year-old lacks the military background that could endear him to the still-powerful army.

He also already has a day job as the chief surgeon of Yangon's busy Muslim Free Hospital.

Aung San Suu Kyi

No one in Myanmar comes close to filling the Nobel laureate's shoes in terms of popularity and political clout, so many still think the 70-year-old can cut a path to the presidency.

For that she would need to convince the military to agree to change the constitution. 

It still controls a quarter of parliament's seats and has an effective charter amendment veto. 

Suu Kyi, whose independence hero father is considered the founder of Myanmar's modern army, has sought to smooth thorny relations with the military in recent months.


But the military has thus far staunchly rejected any significant constitutional amendment. 

Observers say a deal on this would have to involve a hefty sweetener to reassure the army that its huge political and economic powers are not under threat.

WildcardsIn a near empty field of candidates, spectators have begun scanning the stands. 

Elected NLD MP Su SuLwin, daughter of the party's former secretary has been touted as a potential. So has her husband HtinKyaw, a schoolmate of Suu Kyi. 

The NLD's wily spokesman Win Htein has also seen his name raised, despite saying last year that he would not run for a parliamentary seat due to age and health problems. 

Even Shwe Mann, the current parliamentary speaker and former junta number three, has been tipped for the job. Though the move would probably outrage the NLD's electoral base and seems unlikely to appease a military apparently displeased by his closeness to Suu Kyi.