Burma’s house speaker Shwe Mann airs Presidential ambitions – The Irrawaddy



Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann at the WEF in Naypyidaw today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann at the WEF in Naypyidaw today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann told The Irrawaddy on Friday that he is interested in succeeding President Thein Sein in 2015.

“Yes, I would like to,” Shwe Mann said when asked about the position. However, the chairman of the governing Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) cautioned that any prospective president must first win the backing of Burma’s voters and his or her own party.

“That depends first on our party and our people,” he added, referring to his own presidential prospects.

Burma’s president is elected by the country’s parliamentarians and therefore will likely come from whichever party wins the next national elections, also scheduled for 2015.

It looks increasingly likely that either Shwe Mann or opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be Burma’s next president, after the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi reiterated on Thursday that she too wants the job.

Current President Thein Sein, Shwe Mann’s USDP party colleague, has not ruled out running, however.

Though previously Burma’s prime minister, Thein Sein was subordinate to Shwe Mann prior to the formation of Burma’s military-backed civilian government in early 2011. Both are former high-ranking military men, with Shwe Mann previously serving as the army’s joint chief of staff and ranked number three in the former military junta’s hierarchy, behind Than Shwe, Burma’s military dictator until 2010, and Maung Aye, formerly the deputy senior-general.

The USDP won in a landslide in Burma’s widely derided 2010 elections, but will start second favorite to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in 2015. In April 2012 by-elections, the NLD won all but one of the 44 seats contested, hinting that in a free and fair election, it could win a landslide in 2015.

Currently Suu Kyi, however, cannot become president due to her two sons being British citizens. The NLD is pushing to have the country’s Constitution changed to allow Suu Kyi to take the position, the possible outcome if her party wins in 2015.

On March 15, USDP parliamentarians called for a commission to propose changes to the Constitution, which was adopted after a 2008 referendum held under controversial circumstances, with the Irrawaddy delta region reeling from the deadly Cyclone Nargis, which left an estimated 140,000 people dead and 3 million homeless.

Suu Kyi said on Thursday that she wants the Constitution changed not only to allow her the chance to be president, but to do away with the military’s guaranteed 25 percent bloc of seats in the country’s Parliament, seen by many as hindering the transition from army rule to parliamentary democracy.

Asked on Thursday about reducing the army’s presence in the legislature, during a televised debate at a World Economic Forum (WEF) event in Naypyidaw, Shwe Mann gave a similar answer to that proferred when asked about his possible presidential run. “The desire of the people is the most important thing for change,” he said.

And though an amended Constitution could facilitate Suu Kyi becoming president, a proposed legislative amendment favored by some of Burma’s smaller parties could diminish her prospects to an extent.

Several parties, including the one-time military-backed National Unity Party (NUP), want the country’s voting system changed from the current first-past-the-post system to a proportional format—a change opposed by the NLD. The current system could result in a big win for the NLD in 2015, while a proportional system would likely see more smaller parties win seats and could raise the prospect of a coalition government in Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann at the WEF in Naypyidaw today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann at the WEF in Naypyidaw today (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

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