The presidential contenders

Campaigning for the November 8 election is underway and the real battle will be for the presidency after the nation has voted.

The election result will largely determine who wins the vote to become the next president – and the two vice presidents – at a joint sitting of parliament due in early February.

A big influence on the vote will be the non-elected Tatmadaw MPs who hold 25 percent of the seats.

Making predictions about politics, especially in Myanmar, is fraught but the president is likely to come from the Union Solidarity and Development Party or the Tatmadaw.

There is one major contender for the presidency on the horizon and one or two possible compromise candidates, though President U Thein Sein may seek a second term.

Sources close to U Thein Sein do not believe he will seek re-election because he has lost considerable support within the USDP, despite Thura U Shwe Mann’s ouster from the party’s executive. The Tatmadaw is also disillusioned with U Thein Sein’s pres- idency.

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A strong showing in the election by the NLD would also count against U Thein Sein. NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would not support him, said party spokesman U Nyan Win.

The next president is most likely to be Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has not hidden his political ambitions. Some believe he was always junta leader Senior General Than Shwe’s choice to succeed U Thein Sein as head of state.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was due to retire last month and be succeeded as commander-in-chief by General Soe Win but the changeover was delayed because of the machinations in the USDP.

The bitter battle between Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann and President U Thein Sein, which incapacitated the government and threw the succes- sion issue into disarray, forced the army to postpone the changes at the top.

The removal of Thura U Shwe Mann as a rival to other presidential contenders has raised the expectation that the Tatmadaw chief will stand down in February ahead of his nomination as a presidential candidate by military MPs.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seems to be the strongest contender for president, though many Western nations may be loathe to accept him. Calculations have been made that a negative international reaction would be a minor setback. At the least, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seems destined to become one of the two vice presidents.

Some members of the ruling elite would prefer a ‘civilianised’ presidential option.

If this view prevails, then President’s Office Minister U Soe Maung is a strong candidate. He is said to have the support of the Tatmadaw and is known to be close to General Soe Win.

Another contender is Upper House Speaker U Khin Aung Myint, who has been a constant foil to Thura U Shwe Mann in parliament. His greatest asset is being the USDP member most trusted by Senior General Than Shwe.

The third potential candidate is the USDP’s acting chairman, U Htay Oo, a minister in the former military regime who is also said to be close to Senior General Than Shwe.

Even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency, the NLD could play a critical role in determining the next head of state if it wins more than 50 percent of the hluttaw.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said recently the party has a candidate for the presidency. Senior NLD members have declined to name the candidate, who is said to be very close to the Lady and to the party. It is not Thura U Shwe Mann.

The candidate will be one of the three nominees for the vote in parliament to choose a president after the election.

The NLD’s game plan is for its nominee to become the interim president, allow a debate on constitutional reform and hold a referendum, so that the Lady can become president later next year. But it all depends on the outcome of the election.

But in the twist and turns of Myanmar politics a dark horse may yet become president next year.

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