Vice-President’s Candidacy Carries Constitutional Conundrum

By San Yamin Aung 7 August 2015

RANGOON —Dr Sai Mauk Kham will contest the Union seat of Lashio for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in November, potentially putting the vice-president in violation of constitutional prohibitions on campaigning.

Tin Maung Shwe, chairman of the Lashio District Union Election Commission office, said that the vice-president personally filed his candidate form on Monday to contest the Lower House seat.

Political commentator Dr Yan Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy that participating in party activities while holding executive office was against Article 64 of Burma’s Constitution.

“The election campaign is a party activity,” he said. “In accordance with the constitution, the president, vice presidents, ministers and deputy ministers need to resign from their position if they want to contest the election.”

Sai Mauk Kham won an Upper House seat in Shan State for the USDP in the 2010 elections before winning a vice-presidential ballot in the Union Parliament the following February, resoundingly defeating rival candidate Aye Maung of the Arakan National Party, who was backed by the legislature’s ethnic parties.

The ethnic Shan politician is a standing member of the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee, which has been involved in national ceasefire negotiations with ethnic armed groups since 2012. He is known as an avid golfer, and reportedly played regular matches with Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during the military commander-in-chief’s visits to Lashio.

It appears unlikely that Sai Mauk Kham will be re-nominated for the vice-presidency, despite his executive record and an informal precedent reserving one of the vice-presidential posts for an ethnic candidate.

Yan Myo Thein said that in view of predicted gains by ethnic candidates in the Upper House, there would be other lawmakers jostling to succeed him.

“I think the next ethnic vice president will be either Karen or Kachin,” he said.

Following confirmation in late July, UEC candidate submissions have confirmed that Shwe Mann will not recontest his seat of Zayarthiri in Naypyidaw, instead winning USDP nomination for his hometown constituency of Phyu.

The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) performed strongly in Naypyidaw during the 2012 parliamentary byelections, winning all five seats rendered vacant by the appointment of USDP figures into cabinet.

Shwe Mann—who heads the USDP’s election campaign committee and is widely considered one of the frontrunners in next year’s presidential contest—was also the subject of an impeachment petition being circulated in Zayarthiri Township in July, which accused the speaker of failing to respect the military’s role in Parliament.

The party had not yet submitted a candidate for the seat of Zabuthiri in Naypyidaw, successfully contested by President Thein Sein in 2010. The president has not yet committed to running in the 2015 poll.

Despite reports to the contrary, Sai Mauk Kham’s fellow vice-president Nyan Tun will not be contesting the Nov. 8 poll for the USDP.

Local outlets reported on Thursday that Nyan Tun, who resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Burma Navy to fill the slot left by the retirement of Tin Aung Myint Oo, would by the party’s candidate for the Sagaing Division seat of Kani.

Tin Oo, chair of the Sagaing Division UEC office, told The Irrawaddy that Kani would be contested by the vice-president’s namesake, Brig-Gen Nyan Tun, a native of the township.

The vice-president, who came under fire in 2014 for claiming that US$2 was a reasonable living wage for the people of Burma, will not run for office under the USDP banner, according to a member of the party’s central committee who asked not to be named.

The UEC said on Thursday that by Aug. 4 it had received almost 2,100 candidate forms for the 1,171 Union and divisional seats to be contested in the general election. The USDP has lodged 910 candidate applications, while the NLD has only filed 79—despite the opposition party’s central committee announcing over the weekend it had selected candidates for more than 1,000 seats.

Meanwhile, UEC chairman Tin Aye met with UN rights envoy Yanghee Lee on Thursday, affirming that the commission would not postpone elections as a result of the recent floods crisis.

The UEC has legal authority to postpone elections in specific townships in the event of natural disasters or local conflict. Tin Aye said the commission was taking actions to address concerns about the impact of the flooding, including the extension of candidate registration deadlines and the issuing of voter cards to flood victims, both announced earlier in the week
The UEC chairman also pledged to ensure access and scrutiny of polling booths for international observers and the media during the election.

Responding to reports that some polling booths would be set up inside military compounds, Tin Aye said that if officials were reluctant to accept outside observers, he would request that the Burma Armed Forces relocate booths outside of military facilities.