Thein Sein and who else?

It is highly likely that one of the three candidates for Myanmar’s next president will be U Thein Sein.

IT IS just over six weeks to the election, and it is generating huge domestic and international attention. One of the most interesting issues surrounding the ballot is who will become president after the election. According to the constitution, the president has the power to form a government and to appoint the chief ministers of the states and regions. But the president is neither directly elected by the people nor by the elected members of parliament. It is unpredictable which candidate from which party is likely to become president.

The process is made even more unpredictable by such factors as the probability of parties forming alliances, internal party tensions, and even whether the Tatmadaw will accept the election result. Despite the unpredictability, I would like to make a guess about who is likely to become the next head of state.

The president is chosen from among three candidates by a vote in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, sitting as an electoral college. The constitution provides for the 330 elected members of the Pyithu Hluttaw, or lower house, the 168 elected members of the Amyotha Hluttaw, or upper house, and the 166 appointed Tatmadaw MPs in the upper and lower houses, to each nominate a vice-president, from among whom the head of state is selected.

It is probable that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will determine the vice-president chosen by the lower house and possibly also the upper house.

It is safe to predict that the NLD will win more than 50 percent of the 330 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw. Few would deny this. The vice-president proposed by the lower house will be chosen by the NLD.

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In the case of the Amyotha Hluttaw, there are two possible scenarios. The NLD is sure to win many seats in the upper house. If it is more than 50 per- cent, it will choose the vice-president. If the NLD fails to win more than 50 percent of the 168 elected seats in the upper house it will have to negotiate an agreement with the ethnic minority parties who are also likely to win numerous upper house seats. Depending on the agreement, the vice-president will either be a member of the NLD or the leader of an ethnic party.

The 166 military MPs will choose a vice-president at the direction of the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief. It is most likely that the vice-president chosen by the military MPs will be U Thein Sein.

The next step is to choose the president. There is no clear procedure for this. There was no problem choosing the president after the 2010 election, because the decision was made by Senior General Than Shwe. The absence of a specific procedure may create problems when the next head of state is chosen. As Parliamentary Speaker, Thura U Shwe Mann tried to arrange for the hluttaw to clarify the rules and regulations for choosing a president but was unable to complete the task.

The absence of a definitive procedure may result in changes to the process of choosing a president from among the three vice-presidents next year. Clarity is needed. Will the candidate who attracts the most votes become president? If none of the three contenders wins more than 50 percent of the vote, will the president be chosen from among the two vice-presidents who get the most votes? Will it be a secret ballot or a show of hands? If it is a secret ballot, how will party leaders know for whom their MPs vote?

This could be an issue for the NLD and Union Solidarity and Development Party. For example, if the NLD leadership proposed Thura U Shwe Mann or outgoing Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker U Khin Aung Myint, how can it be sure its MPs follow its instructions? Similarly, if the USDP backs U Thein Sein, it cannot be certain its MPs will vote for him.

One thing is certain. The next president will be either the candidate preferred by the NLD or the choice of the USDP and the Tatmadaw. U Thein Sein is almost certain to be proposed by the USDP and the Tatmadaw. But it is very difficult to predict who will be the NLD’s candidate.

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