The Would-Be Leaders of Burma’s New Parliament

By San Yamin Aung 23 January 2016

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD) offered a clearer picture of its plans for governance over the 2016-21 period this week, only to muddy the waters once more a day later, with two reports sending mixed signals as the party grapples with coordinating a communications strategy for a press eager for any tidbit on offer.

On Wednesday, NLD spokesman Nyan Win told the news wire Agence France-Presse (AFP) that senior party member Win Myint would be tapped to serve as speaker of the Union Parliament’s Lower House, while the ethnic Karen MP-elect Mahn Win Khaing Than, also of the NLD, would get the party’s backing for the Upper House.

One day later, central committee member Win Htein sought to walk back those remarks, however, telling reporters after a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw that the nominee list was not finalized. This, of course, left media in the difficult position of having to weigh the word of an official NLD spokesman against that of a fellow central committee member.

Win Htein and Nyan Win could not be reached for comment seeking clarification on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Contacted by The Irrawaddy on Thursday, a senior member of the party did not refute Nyan Win’s comments, but declined to discuss the issue.

In the end, The Irrawaddy offers a look at the backgrounds of the two would-be speakers, while again noting that that the party has offered conflicting information on whether the two men will indeed be the leaders of the next Parliament.

The Union Parliament will convene on Feb. 1 and nominees for the speakerships will be voted on sometime shortly thereafter.

Win Myint

Win Myint is considered to be something of a right-hand man for NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi. An NLD central committee member, 65-year-old Win Myint was re-elected to Parliament on Nov. 8, winning a Lower House seat in Rangoon’s Tamwe Township. In an indication of his standing within the party, Suu Kyi brought Win Myint with her when she met with outgoing President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw on Dec. 2, less than a month after the NLD’s landslide election victory.

Win Myint’s presence at the high-profile meeting had led to speculation that he might be nominated to serve as president of an NLD-led government, an office Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from holding.

He was born in the Irrawaddy Delta and studied geology at Rangoon University before studying law in the 1980s. He was working as a barrister in 1988 when nationwide pro-democracy protests led to the founding of the NLD, which Win Myint subsequently joined.

He won a seat in Burma’s 1990 election, the results of which were annulled by the military, which went on to imprison him and many other victorious NLD candidates in the years that followed.

In Burma’s 2012 by-election, he was elected to the Lower House’s Pathein Township seat and was subsequently assigned to the secretary position of the Lower House’s Rule of Law and Tranquility Committee, which is chaired by Suu Kyi.

Win Myint is said to have been one of four key party leaders responsible for the selection of NLD candidates ahead of the 2015 campaign, a process marred by controversy.

Mahn Win Khaing Than

The NLD’s purported choice for the Upper House, should it come to pass, would make good on a party pledge to bring a diverse array of ethnic voices to positions of power during its tenure.

A Karen Christian, Mahn Win Khaing Than joined the NLD in 2013 and contested for the first time in the 2015 election, winning a seat in the Upper House representing a Myawaddy Township constituency.

Born in Irrawaddy Division’s Hinthada Township, Win Khaing Than also graduated from Rangoon University, with a law degree in 1975.

He has ties to Suu Kyi’s father Gen. Aung San, with his grandfather Mahn Ba Khaing having been assassinated alongside Burma’s independence hero in 1947.

Before 1988, the 63-year-old served as secretary of the Karen Literature and Culture Association and in 1990 joined the Union Karen League (UKL), which contested the election that year.

Ethnic Unknowns

The NLD has not yet revealed the bicameral legislature’s two deputy speakers by name, but AFP on Wednesday quoted Nyan Win as saying they would both be members of ethnic minorities, one drawn from the Arakan National Party (ANP) and the other a Kachin from the incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Speculation appears to have coalesced around two names: Aye Tha Aung, the ANP patron who was elected last year to an Upper House seat in Arakan State, and sitting ethnic Kachin parliamentarian T Khun Myat of the USDP, who chairs the Lower House’s Bill Committee.

T Khun Myat

T Khun Myat is said to be a close ally of outgoing Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, who has established a good working relationship with Suu Kyi since she entered Parliament in 2012. Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann have reportedly met often in the post-election period, and T Khun Myat was included in at least one of those meetings, on Nov. 19 in Naypyidaw, less than a week after the NLD secured the parliamentary majority it needed to form the next government.

While the dots can be connected, T Khun Myat’s selection for the deputy speaker post would raise some eyebrows, given that he has faced allegations of involvement in the illicit narcotics trade in a series of investigative reports by the Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).

T Khun Myat, a 65-year-old ethnic Kachin, graduated with a law degree from Rangoon University and rose through the ranks of the civil service to legal director of the Attorney General’s Office. He retired in 2010 to contest that year’s general election, in which he won a Lower House seat in Kutkai Township.

His ties to the USDP go back to the former military government that preceded it, serving as the secretary of the Kutkai Township Peace and Development Council under the junta. While he was serving as legal director at the Attorney General’s Office from 1990 to 2010, he concurrently served as leader of a local paramilitary force in Kutkai Township under the command of the Burma Army’s North East Command. He also took part in the constitutional drafting commission in 2007.

He was secretary of the Kutkai Township Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and an executive of the northern Shan State chapter of the USDP that succeeded it.

Sai Leik from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) told The Irrawaddy on Friday that T Khun Myat was tasked by Shwe Mann with drafting a policy on federalism, but Sai Leik said he was unaware of what progress had been made on the assignment.

“There has no reason to object if the NLD nominates him as deputy speaker, but if it happens, he needs to follow the lead of the NLD, and if he can continue and complete that task, that’s fine.”

Aye Tha Aung

Aye Tha Aung told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that though there has speculation that he could be nominated as Upper House deputy speaker, he had not yet received any information from the NLD about it.

He was born in Myebon Township, Arakan State, and served as a sergeant-major and for a time worked in Ka-Pa-Sa, the heavy (Military) Industry Corporation, but was dismissed and imprisoned due to his underground political activities. He was released in a 1974 amnesty, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

His pro-democracy activities also earned him an arrest in 2000, and he was released in 2002.

He was chairman of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), a political party once outlawed by Burma’s former military regime that later merged with the3 Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) to form the ANP.

The ANP won 22 seats in the Union Parliament in Nov. 8 election, clearly establishing it as the country’s strongest ethnic political party. The ANP also won 23 of 47 state parliament seats on Nov. 8, just short of a majority in the Arakan State legislature.