Myanmar presidential vote to start on March 17 as transition talks drag on

Myanmar presidential vote to start on March 17 as transition talks drag on

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar – Reuters
Myanmar presidential vote to start on March 17 as transition talks drag on

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, second right, walks along with lawmakers of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to attend the inauguration session of Union Parliament Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. AP Photo

Myanmar’s parliament will begin its election of the new president on March 17, cutting very close to an April 1 deadline, suggesting talks between Aung San Suu Kyi’s victorious party and the military are likely to take longer than planned. 

But a top military lawmaker on Feb. 8 denied that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and the armed forces were discussing provisions to change the constitution and allow the democracy champion to become the country’s new president. 

Senior NLD members had told the media they would hold presidential elections in February, but the parliament on Feb. 8 decided the process would start two weeks before the new government is scheduled to begin its term, on April 1. 

“I hereby announce that the meetings of the three presidential electoral colleges will be held effective March 17,” joint chamber speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than said in parliament. 

The NLD swept the historic Nov. 8 election, securing some 80 percent of elected seats in parliament, or enough to push through its president. 

That kicked off a lengthy transition process during which the military and the NLD have been locked in negotiations, most probably over the shape of the new government and transfer of power, but details of the talks have been murky. 

“There is no discussing between the military and NLD about Article 59 (f),” Brigadier General Tin San Naing, the spokesman of the military caucus in parliament, told Reuters. 

The article, which bars anyone with foreign children and spouses from becoming president, is seen as being aimed at Suu Kyi, whose children are British. 

It could only be amended with the army’s approval, Tin San Naing added. 

“The article can’t be suspended. It’s against the constitution. It has already been discussed in the parliament so it should not be proposed and discussed again.” 

The article had been “put in the constitution intentionally, to protect our people from foreign invasion,” he added. 

Under the junta-drafted constitution, parliament chooses the president. Each of the two chambers nominates its vice-presidential candidate, while the military MPs, who are guaranteed a quarter of the seats, nominate the third. 

Once the candidates are in place, a joint-chamber session picks the president for a five-year term. The two losing candidates become vice-presidents.