RANGOON — Hantha Myint, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), has denied that he told Reuters news agency that the party was considering supporting Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann for the presidency after next year’s parliamentary elections.
“I talked to Reuters on August 26, but I didn’t utter a word about U Shwe Mann, or say we would support him,” Hantha Myint, NLD Central Executive Committee member, told The Irrawaddy.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, he confirmed most of the news report but again denied having talked about whether the NLD would support Shwe Mann, the chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), for the presidency.
The Reuters article caused somewhat of a stir among the Burmese public, many of whom loathe the ex-generals in the USDP, and the NLD leadership has been quick to dispel the report.
Suu Kyi told local media outlets Eleven Media that the NLD member’s comments had probably been misinterpreted. “This is not the [Central Executive Committee]’s decision, I don’t think they would say something like that. You better ask them about it,” she told Eleven Media.
In the article, which appeared on Wednesday morning, Hantha Myint and party spokesman Nyan Win discuss the political implications of the Constitution’s Article 59 (f), which bans Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are British citizens.
The NLD has been campaigning for months for changes to the military-drafted 2008 charter, which grants the army political powers such as control over a quarter of Parliament, but it appears unlikely that it will be amended in Suu Kyi’s favor before 2015.
Article 59 (f) has created a dilemma for the NLD. The wildly popular Suu Kyi is the party’s undisputed leader and no one in the party’s aging leadership has been able to step out of her shadow and take on a number two position in order to potentially fill the presidency.
Even after a large election victory, the NLD would also have to deal with the USDP, the military MPs and other parties in seeking a suitable presidential candidate as Parliament elects Burma’s president.
Reuters quotes Hantha Myint as saying, “We believe there is no number two position in our party.” He then goes on to discuss who could be suited for the presidency after an NLD victory. “He doesn’t have to be NLD, but he must think like us,” Hantha Myint said of a presidential candidate.
Nyan Win reportedly told Reuters that Shwe Mann could be a candidate as he maintains good relations with Suu Kyi. “She is the most popular person in the party. She favors him,” he is quoted as saying, before acknowledging that NLD support for the ex-general and No. 3 of Burma’s former junta would be deeply unpopular among the NLD rank and file and the wider public.
Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann have publicly spoken of having a good working relationship. The speaker has often appeared more pragmatic and flexible than his party and has said that he would like to become president
Nyan Win was not available for comments but Kyi Toe, the party’s central information deputy officer, told The Irrawaddy that he spoke to Nyan Win about his quoted comments.
“I personally asked U Nyan Win for clarification right after the news broke. He recounted that [Reuters reporter] Paul Mooney asked him: ‘Does the NLD support Shwe Mann?’ And he replied: ‘That’s a totally unsuitable question to ask.’”
Yan Myo Thein, a Rangoon-based political commentator, said that, despite the denials of the NLD members, the article raised an important question for the party, as it will have to inform the public about its plans for the presidency if it wins the 2015 elections.
“If the NLD really wants to do it [support Shwe Mann for president] they need to publicly disclose it before the elections. If not, people will feel they have been betrayed,” he said.