In October, the Chairman of Myanmar's Union Election Commission, U Tin Aye, announced that Myanmar's next elections would occur as planned in either October or November 2015. This is reassuring to many in Myanmar, especially after the 2014 by-elections were cancelled. It is also good news for those with their eyes on the presidency.
National League for Democracy supporters (Flickr/Alan C.)
So far, there are a few likely contenders. Aung San Suu Kyi and U Shwe Mann have made their presidential ambitions publicly known. And while Aung San Suu Kyi remains ineligible due to Section 59(f) of Myanmar's 2008 constitution, Derek Tonkin has suggested there may be other options available for her to pursue.
Separately, there is speculation that Tatmadaw (armed forces) commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing might be a candidate, with claims military officials are willing to support him. Meanwhile, President U Thein Sein appears to be positioning himself as a reluctant leader who would only accept the position again depending on 'the needs of the country and the wishes of the people'. But considering the pressure on him and his family, he may genuinely not be interested in serving another full term.
It is difficult to predict an outcome, especially considering the many moving parts in Myanmar politics and opaque behind-the-scenes manoeuvring. However, the Presidential Electoral College (PEC) gives Myanmar watchers a starting point to monitor the candidates' lobbying efforts over the coming year.
According to the 2008 constitution, after the public votes in members of parliament, the PEC is formed to nominate three presidential candidates who are then vetted for eligibility. Once approved, PEC members vote for the candidates and the one with the majority of votes becomes president, while the others become vice presidents.
The PEC consists of three groups. The first is comprised of elected MPs from the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) and the second is comprised of elected MPs from the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives). The third consists solely of Defence Services Hluttaw MPs, as selected by the commander-in-chief.
It is useful to remember this breakdown, for while the Tatmadaw has a quarter of the seats in parliament, it has a third of the positions (and thus a greater influence) in the PEC.
As the PEC effectively selects the president, it provides a logical start point for identifying who to lobby for support. But since the parliament's composition is unknown and the PEC isn't formed until after the elections, this can be complicated. Nonetheless, some assumptions or predictions can be made which may help in identifying the different target groups.
Broadly speaking, the composition of the Tatmadaw's PEC group is known, even if the individuals are not yet selected. That is, it will be filled with military MPs. Recent reports suggest that on very important issues, Tatmadaw MPs are likely to vote together and according to what the Tatmadaw believes is in its best interests. Therefore, if a candidate can win the Tatmadaw's support, they could potentially obtain a third of the votes for president in one move.
It is unclear what the Tatmadaw wants in a president, but it would most likely favour candidates who aren't perceived as threats. This could give candidates with a military background an advantage. Civilian candidates are arguably in a tougher position as they have to earn the Tatmadaw's trust to gain its support. Some, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, seem to recognise this and have already begun courting the military, though whether it genuinely trusts her remains to be seen.
The composition of the other two civilian PEC groups is less clear, but assumptions can again be made. For example, if the National League for Democracy (NLD) contests the elections it is likely to win a significant number of seats, though some believe it won't be similar to the landslide win in the 2012 by-elections. However, if the NLD won as much as 50% of the total seats in the new parliament, it would strongly influence the PEC's presidential nominations and the final vote.
And with Myanmar's parliament recently voting against adopting proportional representation for the 2015 elections, this has removed one obstacle that could diminish the number of seats NLD might win. Like the Tatmadaw, this makes the NLD an important group to have onside.
But this is based on the assumption that the NLD will win a majority of seats and that all NLD members will vote the same way. Considering the fractious nature of Myanmar politics, this is not guaranteed. However, Aung San Suu Kyi will likely have a strong influence over who NLD MPs support, especially if she remains ineligible. This emphasises the importance of also having her on side.
It is also difficult to predict who will take the parliamentary seats NLD doesn't win and which aren't allocated to the Tatmadaw. But based on the outcome of 2010 elections, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) and smaller ethnic parties are likely to win most of these. This means that USDP-trusted candidates, including current and past members, may be more likely to receive their votes. However, close loyalties and factions could split this vote. Similarly, if there is pressure to ensure another ethnic leader is elected as vice president, this may dictate how some ethnic groups will vote and who one of the PEC's three nominees will be.
There are other ways candidates may be eliminated as presidential contenders. For example, considering the influence of the parliamentary speaker, some contenders may make deals promising support and lobbying to ensure that they become a presidential candidate while another becomes speaker. It is possible that some of these deals have already been made.
In two follow-up posts, I will say more about how potential presidential candidates can win over the Tatmadaw and the civilian vote in parliament.