By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER
IN A MAJOR development in the Pyithu Hluttaw, deputy speaker U T Khun Myat was elected as speaker on March 22, replacing U Win Myint, a stalwart of the National League for Democracy, who had resigned the previous day to contest the presidency.
T Khun Myat, 68, a Kachin, won the Shan State seat of Kutkai in 2010 and 2015 for the Union Solidarity and Development Party, from which he is known to have resigned, although it is not clear when he became an independent MP.
The election of a former USDP MP as speaker, a role in which he will manage parliamentary business in a Hluttaw dominated by members of the NLD, has attracted intense interest. Much of it has focused on T Khun Myat’s background.
The former leader of a militia in Kutkai that was under the control of the Tatmadaw’s Northeast Region Command, T Khun Myat served in the military government that seized power in September 1988 as legal director of the Office of the Attorney General.
He was leading the militia group when he participated in the commission appointed by the junta to draft the 2008 Constitution. T Khun Myat served as chairman of the important parliamentary bill drafting committee during the USDP government from 2011 to 2016, when the Hluttaw speaker was Thura U Shwe Mann, an ally, who is also a close confidante of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
U Htun Htun Hein, 69, a lawyer who was appointed deputy speaker, was jailed for sedition by the junta after it took power in 1988. He is a veteran NLD member, serving on its central executive committee, and is the current chairman of the Pyithu Hluttaw bill drafting committee.
A spokesperson for the NLD, U Monywa Aung Shin, told Frontier that the decision to propose T Khun Myat for the speaker’s role was in line with the policy of party chair Aung San Suu Kyi to appoint those who would work in the country’s best interest.
“He has been tested for some time and we are confident that he will be competent,” said Monywa Aung Shin.
NLD MPs only learned of the decision to nominate T Khun Myat for the speaker’s role after they arrived at the Hluttaw on the morning of March 22.
“We were directed to vote for the person chosen by the party,” U Khin Cho, (NLD, Hlaingbwe, Kayin) told Frontier.
T Khun Myat defeated the USDP’s U Thaung Aye (Pyawbwe, Mandalay Region) for the speaker position. Htun Htun Hein (Nawnghkio, Shan) defeated the USDP’s Dr Maung Thin (Meiktila, Mandalay) for the deputy speaker’s post.
All 255 NLD MPs in the Pyithu Hluttaw voted for the candidates proposed by the party and with support from other MPs, T Khun Myat attracted 273 votes to Thaung Aye’s 27 in the secret ballot.
NLD MPs welcomed the election of T Khun Myat as speaker even though he is not from the party, saying they believed he would be competent.
Reactions from MPs belonging to other parties were mixed, but generally supportive.
Daw Khin Saw Wai (Arakan National Party, Rathedaung, Rahkine State), who has often been critical of the NLD government, welcomed the appointment of an experienced ethnic minority politician as speaker.
There was also an expression of support from the leader of the military MPs in the Pyithu Hluttaw, Brigadier-General Maung Maung, who said he expected the new speaker to serve well in the role because of his parliamentary experience.
U Maung Myint (USDP, Mingin, Sagaing) said he hoped the appointment would lead to a better balance among the Hluttaw, the government and judiciary.
The Pyithu Hluttaw speaker holds the fifth highest position in the State protocol list and is also a member of the National Defence and Security Council, and some have expressed concern about appointing a person who is not a ruling party member to the panel.
“He needs to be loyal to the NLD; agendas may be laid down after negotiations outside the Hluttaw,” said U Khin Kyaw Aye, a research director at the Open Myanmar Initiative, which has been monitoring the nation’s Hluttaws since 2013.
Khin Kyaw Aye told Frontier that in situations where urgent debates were sought a speaker who was not an NLD member may make decisions at variance with the party’s policies.
Despite the endorsement by military MP Maung Maung, some political analysts have wondered how the Tatmadaw will react to having a speaker who is close to Shwe Mann, who chairs the parliamentary Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues. The former USDP chairman was dramatically expelled from the party in August 2015 and is loathed by many in the Tatmadaw for allowing a debate on constitutional reform when he was speaker.
However, the NLD’s numbers in the Hluttaw would make it difficult to launch any move to have T Khun Myat replaced as speaker.