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Name of Myanmar's Next President to Be Known March 17

(Photo: NLD Chairperson Facebook)

By Esther Htusan
February 8, 2016

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar -- The names of Myanmar's next president and two vice presidents will be revealed on March 17, an official said Monday, setting a clear timeline for the transition of power from a military-controlled government to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

Parliament chairman Mann Win Khaing Than announced that the upper house, the lower House and the military will have to select one candidate each for the three posts before March 17, and submit them to parliament on that day.

While Suu Kyi herself is barred from becoming president, there are growing signs that her talks with the military to remove a constitutional hurdle blocking her path can be completed by March 17.

Once the three names are put before the 664-member parliament, all members will take a vote. The person with the largest number of votes will become president, and the other two will be vice presidents. It isn't clear when the vote will take place, but the current president's term ends March 31 and the successor must take office April 1.

Given that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has a majority in both houses of parliament, it is certain to get the president's post and one of the vice presidential positions.

The NLD won a landslide victory in the Nov. 8 general elections. But Suu Kyi has been stymied by the Constitution's Article 59 (f), which says anyone with a foreign spouse or children cannot hold the executive office. Suu Kyi's late husband was British as are her two sons.

Still, she has been negotiating with commander-in-chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on having the clause suspended. The clause can be legally scrapped only through a 75 percent plus one vote in Parliament. The military holds 25 percent of seats in parliament — all unelected — which means the NLD cannot scrap the clause on its own. However, the clause can be suspended by a simple majority, but because all this is uncharted territory nobody is sure if that would be allowed.

In separate but identical broadcasts late Sunday, Sky Net and Myanmar National Television, both pro-government, said "positive results could come out on the negotiation for the suspension of the constitution Article 59 (f)."

"I think everything will be fine," Kyaw Htwe, a senior member of the NLD, told The Associated Press. "The negotiations will be positive for our leader Aung San Suu Kyi to become president," said Kyaw Htwe, who is also a member of parliament.

But Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, advised caution.

"It is still too early to confirm that Suu Kyi will be among the presidential candidate," he said. "Even the suspension and the constitutional amendment will take time. And we cannot really comment relying only on a short announcement on TV," he said.

Suu Kyi has said previously that even if she doesn't become the president she would run the country from behind the scenes. But clearly, the NLD would prefer that the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate lead the country, having struggled almost all her adult life for it.

On Monday, Suu Kyi entered the parliament without commenting to the media. Watching the joint session of parliament as an observer was influential former general Shwe Mann, the former speaker of the lower house in the outgoing government and now a Suu Kyi ally. He is believed to be supportive of a constitutional change and is thought to be trying to broker a deal to allow her to become president.

Myanmar was ruled with an iron fist by the military for 50 years until it stood back in 2010 to allow a quasi-civilian government to take over. In that time Suu Kyi was their chief adversary, defying them even while under house arrest for many years. The enmity still lingers, but the generals are thought to have invested too much in putting the country on the path to a civilian government to risk a pull back now.

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