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Updated: February 1, 2011 19:26 IST

Myanmar parliament begins choosing government

AP
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Myanmar military's then chief of staff Thura Shwe Mann. File photo: AP.
Myanmar military's then chief of staff Thura Shwe Mann. File photo: AP.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962 and is now essentially handpicking the country’s president. Through representatives of its party and their allies, it holds an 80 percent majority in the new legislature, so the new leader is certain to be a top member of the outgoing junta.

Myanmar’s first parliament in more than two decades nominated five vice-presidential candidates on Tuesday, one of whom will become president and lead the new military-dominated government.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962 and is now essentially handpicking the country’s president. Through representatives of its party and their allies, it holds an 80 percent majority in the new legislature, so the new leader is certain to be a top member of the outgoing junta.

The most prominent nominee among five vying for the three vice-president’s seats is Thein Sein, a general who served as prime minister in the outgoing ruling junta and also heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in last November’s general election.

Gen. Thein Sein’s seniority makes him the most likely pick for the top post, but a second top military figure, Lt. Gen. Tin Aung Myint Oo, who was also a senior member of the junta, is another candidate.

Three of the candidates are minorities, and one is certain to be chosen for a Vice-President’s job. That inclusion is an important gesture because conflict with the country’s substantial ethnic groups who seek greater autonomy has long posed a threat to national stability.

Parliament is now adjourned until Thursday while the speakers and their deputies from the lower and upper houses scrutinize the candidates’ qualifications. The 2008 constitution drafted under the junta’s guidance says the president shall be acquainted with political, administrative, economic and military affairs.

The selection of the president is the last step in the junta’s so-called road map to democracy. It has manipulated the process to ensure that the military will continue to have a dominant role in running the country.

Although there appears to be little popular interest in parliament’s opening - the widespread perception that the military cheated in last November’s general election dashed many hopes for true change - the general public is curious as to who may become head of state.

“I am not interested in the opening of parliament but I am a little curious to know who will be the country’s first president. It could be one of the military leaders,” said a worker at a hotel in Naypyitaw. He spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted official attention for speaking to a journalist.

No matter who becomes president, Senior Gen. Than Shwe - the head of the junta - is expected to remain a dominant force in the country.

The party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won elections in 1990 that the junta refused to honour, boycotted last November’s vote and is without representation in the new legislature.

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