NLD Says It Intends to Field a Presidential Candidate

By Htun Htun 13 July 2015

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s main opposition party says it plans to field a presidential candidate despite an all but certain constitutional ban on its popular chairwoman running for the post.

“The presidential candidate will be chosen from within the party,” Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), told media at her residence in Naypyidaw on Saturday, when the party officially announced that it would contest the general election due on Nov. 8.

“[The presidential candidate] must be an NLD member. If [the presidential candidate] is not now, [he or she] must be [an NLD member] later,” she added.

The opposition leader, who herself is barred from the presidency under Article 59(f) of Burma’s controversial Constitution, said her party had a plan to ensure that its candidate is acceptable to the people.

With the prospect of the NLD putting forward an alternative presidential candidate to Suu Kyi, one NLD lawmaker hinted that party patron Tin Oo or central committee member Win Htein could get the nod.

“Uncle U Tin Oo is 88 now, but still in very good health. U Win Htein is just 74, but he is not very healthy. You would understand what I mean,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.

Burma’s president is elected by Parliament from among three vice presidential candidates in a vote that will likely take place in February or March of next year. The NLD is expected to perform well in the upcoming general election and would likely have significant influence on the presidential pick if its ambitions are realized.

Zaw Thet Htwe, a former political prisoner, said Tin Oo was the second-to-none choice for the position, given his long military career and political experience.

Tin Oo is the former commander in chief of the military and was conferred the military title “Thura,” an honor given to members of the Burma Armed Forces for displaying valor in the face of the enemy.

“If the presidential candidate is [to be chosen] from within the party, Thura U Tin Oo, who has a legacy and reputation [as a good soldier and pro-democracy activist], is the only one [to be chosen],” said Zaw Thet Htwe.

Meanwhile Zarganar, a well-known former political prisoner, wrote on his Facebook page on June 30: “U Win Htein should be a presidential candidate. He was the DSA [Defense Services Academy’s] best candidate [for his intake]. There is hardly a politician who reads like him. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to think that way?”

Suu Kyi said on Saturday that although she had reservations about the credibility of the forthcoming election, she had nonetheless decided to seek re-election in her Kawhmu Township constituency. Suu Kyi won the Rangoon Division seat in a 2012 by-election that her party dominated.

The NLD plans to contest nationwide in the election, but the opposition party said it would not field candidates in some ethnic constituencies under an agreement it has forged with allied ethnic political parties. Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is also likely to contest nationwide.

The general election will put 1,171 seats in play between the Union Parliament and regional legislatures.

Suu Kyi over the weekend reiterated concerns expressed by her party in recent weeks that there might not be enough time before polling day to correct errors in the eligible voter lists, which are thought to be riddled with inaccuracies. The NLD has launched a campaign to raise voter awareness on the issue and help people to correct their data if incorrectly enumerated.

Suu Kyi also said the NLD would work toward national reconciliation as its highest priority, and in an subsequent statement on Sunday, the party said it would continue to pursue its yet-to-be-fulfilled objectives—establishing the rule of law and internal peace, and amending the Constitution—that it has been committed to achieving since it won 43 seats in Parliament in the 2012 by-election.

The NLD also offered the broad outlines of its economic platform over the weekend, vowing to push for policies that reduce inequality within a free market system and modernize Burma’s agricultural sector, which accounts for about 70 percent of the country’s labor force.

The NLD’s economic platform also pledges to “devolve fiscal responsibilities and powers to the states and divisions,” a key demand of Burma’s ethnic minority groups.