RANGOON — The leader of Burma’s military lawmakers has said the group wants to nominate current Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing for president following the 2015 elections. The plan is possible because the country’s president is elected by Parliament, where military officers hold a quarter of the seats.
Brig-Gen Wai Lin, an officer with the Southern Command and a Lower House MP who leads the military lawmakers, told The Irrawaddy that he expects Sen-Gen Ming Aung Hlaing to be a leading candidate for the presidency.
According to Burma’s 2008 Constitution, the military, the Upper House and the Lower House will each appoint a vice-president. The Union Parliament, which comprises both houses, will then vote to determine which of these three will become president.
Wai Lin said the military MPs would like to nominate the commander-in-chief as a vice-president in this process, which will take place after the elections, scheduled in late 2015.
“Min Aung Hlaing is going to retire in 2016 as he will then be 60 years old. So, he may become a vice-president,” he said. “I don’t know about his desire to serve as vice-president and president. But, if he wants to do so, we can anticipate that he will be selected as vice-president [i.e. presidential candidate].”
Wai Lin said the current commander-in-chief of Burma’s powerful military would make a good civilian president, adding, “Most military leaders work hard for the country. They have done so since a young age.”
The 60-year-old Ming Aung Hlaing took over as commander of Burma’s Armed Forces after long-time military junta leader Than Shwe retired in June 2010. As part of Burma’s democratic transition, planned by Than Shwe, many senior junta members retired to become civilian lawmakers with the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Parliament, which reopened in 2010. The USDP controls 51 percent of the parliamentary seats.
Phone Myint Aung, an Upper House MP with the New National Democracy Party, an opposition group, said the proposal had a chance of succeeding as the military officers in both house of Parliament would support Min Aung Hlaing’s bid for the presidency.
“Military chief Min Aung Hlaing could become president—not only just vice-president—because he already has 25 percent of the presidential votes,” he said. “Not only Min Aung Hlaing, but anyone who has the support of the military lawmakers will have a good chance of becoming president”
Upper House USDP lawmaker Hla Swe said he disapproved of the plan, saying that Burma should breaks with the political custom of putting retired generals in key government positions.
“Military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing seems to be a candidate for vice-president. My idea is that I would rather give this position to an academically-trained, civilian person,” said Hla Swe, who was himself a military officer before becoming a civilian MP.
“I do not like this idea that the army could propose a list of vice-presidents and a [candidate] president, and that the army can appoint ministers who are from the military,” he said.
In 2011, Thein Sein was appointed president of the quasi-civilian government, which is dominated by the USDP. The government will be replaced after the free and fair elections in 2015, but according to the military-drafted Constitution officers will continue to control a quarter of all parliamentary seats.
USDP chairman Shwe Mann has said he wants to lead the USDP in 2015 in a bid to become president, while President Thein Sein has not ruled out running for a second term.
The USDP will have to take on the hugely popular opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD). However, the Constitution currently prohibits anyone with a foreign spouse to become president, effectively banning Suu Kyi, who was married to a UK man, from becoming president.
A parliamentary committee comprising different parties is currently looking into possibly amending the Constitution.