RANGOON — The outcome of the Nov. 8 elections will shape the direction of Burma’s democratic transition. It has been billed as the first “free and fair” election in decades.
Burma’s quasi-presidential system means commanding a ruling majority in Parliament isn’t necessary to enact legislation. What is crucial for the major political parties is that their nominated candidate is elected as president by Parliament. If no party wins a clear majority, it is more likely that temporary alliances, rather than enduring coalitions, will be formed to smooth the passing of legislation.
Parliament elects the president, who in turn selects a cabinet. The president commands full executive power, except in key security ministries (border affairs, home affairs and defense), or in enacting changes to the Constitution. The 2008 Constitution, drafted by the military, stipulates that the military’s support is needed to enact major changes to the charter or key security ministries.
Two presidential candidates are selected from the two chambers of Parliament and one from the military, then Parliament votes for the presidency. The two unsuccessful candidates become vice presidents.
Even if pre-election analysis proves correct and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) loses considerable ground to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), Article 59(f) of the Constitution bars Suu Kyi from being president as her late husband and her sons are foreign nationals.
The military has made assurances that there will be no repeat of the 1990 election, the results of which were ignored by the then ruling junta, or the flawed 2010 election that was considered fraudulent and was boycotted by the NLD. The Constitution gives the military an automatic 25 percent bloc of seats in the bicameral Parliament, giving them a veto power over constitutional change and considerable influence in the presidential vote; their authority is enshrined in law.
Here are a series of post-election scenarios:
- The NLD wins an outright majority, controls Upper and Lower houses
After more than half a century of authoritarian rule, the NLD wins a resounding victory. The party takes control of both houses of Parliament enabling them to select two presidential candidates, one each from the Upper and Lower houses.
In order to fulfill a parliamentary requirement that says one presidential nominee must be an ethnic candidate, the Upper House candidate will be from an ethnic member of the NLD.
Suu Kyi is made Lower House speaker. The NLD winning 67 percent of all elected seats in Parliament is enough to ensure it can outweigh the influence of the 25 percent military bloc and can select the president.
The NLD-nominated president has the authority to appoint ministers in regional and state governments while a majority in both the Lower and Upper house enables legislation to pass through Parliament without resistance.
The USDP becomes the main opposition party.
The NLD hasn’t publicly nominated a presidential candidate. Retired general and NLD founder Tin Oo is an obvious choice but he is 88 years old and has said he would be reluctant to take the post. Htin Kyaw, a former diplomat and close aide of Suu Kyi, is also touted as a candidate.
Former Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, ousted as USDP party chairman in a midnight purge in August, reputedly for upsetting military-backed factions within the party because of his warming public relationship with Suu Kyi, is a possible candidate. He has worked closely with Suu Kyi over reforms to the Constitution. Suu Kyi hasn’t quite put an end to speculation he could be nominated as the NLD candidate.
Suu Kyi said at a news conference this week that the party had selected someone to represent the NLD as president, but did not name the chosen candidate.
- NLD victory, controls Lower House but not Upper House
The NLD wins a majority but only controls the Lower House and Aung San Suu Kyi is elected as the Lower House speaker. The NLD nominates its own presidential candidate from the Lower House.
Despite winning the popular vote, the party doesn’t have control of both chambers of Parliament as ethnic parties are over represented in the Upper House due to electoral malapportionment. Because of this, the presidential candidate from the Upper House is a member of an ethnic party.
The USDP and the military jointly nominate a candidate to run in the tripartite presidential race. The NLD has enough votes to elect the president.
- NLD fails to win outright majority, allies with ethnic/smaller parties
The NLD fails to win an outright majority in Parliament and has to make alliances with the ethnic and smaller parties to make up a majority in the Lower House.
Those parties that boycotted the 2010 elections with the NLD join it in an informal alliance, particularly members of the NLD-friendly United Nationalities Alliance, for example the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).
The NLD secures votes of some ethnic parties of the powerful National Brotherhood Federation, persuading them the NLD, traditionally seen as “Burman” focused, can meet their interests.
Aung San Suu Kyi is elected as Lower House party speaker.
As in scenario 2, the USDP and military jointly nominate a presidential candidate and an ethnic party candidate is nominated from the Upper House.
Between the smaller and ethnic parties the NLD has enough votes to elect its presidential candidate.
The USDP becomes the main opposition party.
- NLD fails to win outright majority, USDP alliance elects president
The NLD wins a majority of contested seats but not the two-thirds needed to elect its own presidential candidate.
The USDP wins enough seats to form a majority in an alliance with some ethnic and smaller parties and the 25 percent military allocation. A USDP proxy party in Kachin State, the UDPKS, the Pa-O National Organization and Kachin State Unity and Democracy Party as well as some member parties of the National Brotherhood Federation form an alliance with the USDP.
The ethnic parties control the Upper House and select their own presidential candidate for the electoral college.
The NLD nominates its own candidate but it is the alliance of the USDP, the military and ethnic and smaller parties that choose the president, most likely Thein Sein.
Htay Oo replaced Shwe Mann in August as party chairman and is considered a contender for the presidency. So too is new general secretary Tin Naing Thein, and influential party members Thein Zaw and Hla Htay Win.
The NLD becomes the main opposition party in both houses.
- USDP secures the Lower House and elects president with the military vote
The NLD and USDP poll fairly evenly. The USDP has enough votes to select a presidential candidate from the Lower House, while the military and ethnic parties also have candidates.
The USDP’s candidate, as suggested in scenario 4, becomes president.
The NLD become the major opposition party in both houses.
- ‘Worst case’ scenarios
The NLD performs poorly amid evidence of widespread intimidation, interference with the voting process and voter fraud. International election observers declare the election results non-credible.
Suu Kyi calls on voters and the international community to condemn the results and to mount pressure on the government. She seeks political avenues to challenge the results while urging her supporters to remain calm.
Or alternatively, an overwhelming victory by the NLD prompts a backlash by reactionary forces, including military hardliners, the Buddhist nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement and USDP supporters. The groups start to foment instability across the country.
In both scenarios, with the increased likelihood of civil disobedience and wide-scale civil revolt, the military declares a state of emergency under the guise of securing stability. It uses its power to suspend the Constitution indefinitely and establishes a military administration. It says it will return governance to quasi-civilian rule only when it can assure the country’s stability.
Sources: CogitAsia, The Irrawaddy, Network Myanmar, BBC, Burma Campaign UK, IDEA, International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch