NAYPYIDAW — Two days ahead of the deadline for candidate submissions, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said Wednesday that President Thein Sein and Vice President Nyan Tun would not contest Burma’s Nov. 8 general election.
USDP General Secretary Maung Maung Thein and Thein Swe, the party’s secretary, both confirmed that a candidate slot the party had been reserving for Thein Sein in his former Naypyidaw constituency of Zabuthiri had been filled by someone else at the president’s instruction.
“We hadn’t nominated a candidate in the president’s Zabuthiri constituency in Naypyidaw as a courtesy to the president,” Maung Maung Thein said at a press conference after the party held a welcoming ceremony for new candidates at its headquarters in Naypyidaw.
He said the president had nominated Myat Hein, Burma’s current minister of communications and information technology, to take up the candidacy in his former constituency.
Thein Swe said the president was also unlikely to enter the parliamentary poll as an independent, while revealing that one of the country’s two vice presidents, Nyan Tun, was also opting out of the race.
“Till now, he [Thein Sein] has not yet informed us, so we assume he won’t run as an independent either, since the deadline for candidate applications is closing,” he said.
While the announcement would appear to clear up some lingering uncertainty about Thein Sein’s intentions ahead of the nationwide vote, speculation will continue to swirl over whether the president will ultimately seek re-election to the nation’s top civilian post. Under the 2008 Constitution, vice presidents, and by extension the president, do not need to be sitting members of Parliament and can be chosen from outside the legislature by lawmakers.
The USDP said Wednesday that it would field candidates in all but 32 of the 1,171 seats up for grabs in November’s general election, with the party indicating it would not compete in some constituencies with large populations of ethnic minority voters.
Maung Maung Thein said despite the USDP’s near-nationwide ambitions, the party was tamping down any expectation of electoral success on the level of Burma’s 2010 election, a poll widely discredited as fraudulent.
“We won over 76 percent [of seats] in the 2010 election, but in the 2015 election, we won’t be able to win like that,” he said.
Thein Swe expressed confidence that the party would still win enough seats to form a government without having to reach out to other potential coalition partners. The party had not entered into talks with any other parties about forming a coalition, he added.
Dozens of senior military officers have resigned from active service to join the USDP in recent days, and are among the candidates the party will field later this year. Currently serving ministers, deputy ministers, leading businesspeople and sitting lawmakers will run for re-election on the USDP ticket as well.
Htay Oo, vice chairman of the USDP, told The Irrawaddy that just under 60 military officers had resigned from the Burma Armed Forces to join the party and around 50 members of Thein Sein’s cabinet would also contest the election.
Maung Maung Thein said a total of 143 military officers and 55 cabinet officials had submitted candidate forms to the USDP, with the party giving the nod to 59 now former military personnel and 46 members of the current administration.
“The main reason we [senior military officers] are moving [into parliamentary politics] is to be able to work for the country’s political, economic and social development, and for peace and stability after serving for the country’s defense and security,” Hla Htay Win, who joined the USDP and will contest under the party banner in Naypyidaw’s Zayarthiri constituency, told reporters.
The recently retired general previously served as chief of general staff for the Burma Army, Navy and Air Force.
Maung Maung Thein told reporters that there were still likely to be some changes to the party roster before it is finalized in time for the candidate submission deadline on Friday. The party was still working out how many of its members would opt to contest as independents rather than on the USDP ticket, he explained.
The party revealed on Wednesday that at least one senior administration official, President’s Office Minister Soe Thein, had tendered his resignation from the party and would contest the election as an independent.
The USDP leaders on Wednesday said they had not yet decided who from its ranks might be tipped as a prospective presidential candidate, with the party planning to revisit the issue once the parliamentary landscape becomes clearer following the Nov. 8 vote.
So far 90 parties have officially registered to contest the election, which puts nearly 1,200 seats in play between the Union Parliament and regional legislatures.