Parliamentary Body to Vet NLD’s Presidential Picks

By The Irrawaddy 10 March 2016

RANGOON — With the National League for Democracy (NLD) announcing its presidential nominees on Thursday, a body comprised of seven lawmakers is set to scrutinize whether or not the two men possess the qualifications required for Burma’s highest civilian post.

The body will be led by the speakers of Parliament’s two houses and their deputies, one additional elected parliamentarian from each chamber and an unelected military lawmaker.

Elected members of the NLD-dominated Upper and Lower chambers have named Htin Kyaw and Henry Van Thio as the ruling party’s presidential nominees, while members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the two houses have put forward the current Vice President Sai Mauk Kham and former Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint as the proposed candidates for Burma’s largest opposition party in their respective chambers.

The military is expected to announce its presidential nominee on Friday, when the NLD-dominated two houses will vote on the four names put forward Thursday, presumably setting the stage for Htin Kyaw and Henry Van Thio to go up against the as-yet-unknown military candidate. The winner of a Union Parliament vote expected next week will become Burma’s next president, while the two runners-up will become his vice presidents.

Even as Thursday marked a historic day, the coming scrutiny process and five-year term of whoever becomes president are best viewed as political milestones marked with an asterisk, given that NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi has said she will be “above” whichever individual is selected.

Htin Kyaw is widely expected to get the nod, owing to his long-standing and close relationship with Suu Kyi—and the NLD leader’s admission that the individual she sends to the Presidential Palace will be expected to follow her instructions without fail.

The proxy problem has arisen because Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency by a clause that does not allow those with a foreign spouse or children to hold the office. Suu Kyi’s two sons hold British citizenship, as did her late husband.

As decided at Thursday’s session, two NLD lawmakers—Dr. Myo Aung from the Lower House, himself considered a presidential possibility, and Ba Myo Thein from the Upper House—were chosen as the additional elected members of the presidential scrutinizing body, while the name of the military lawmaker has yet to be announced.

The seven-member body will conduct its vetting on the basis of constitutional requirements that can at times be vague: Article 59(d) of the charter, for example, states that the president “shall be well-acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military.”

A clause asserting that he or she be “loyal to the Union and its citizens” similarly leaves much open to interpretation.