In my previous posts, I discussed using the Presidential Electoral College (PEC) as a way of observing lobbying efforts leading up to the 2015 Myanmar elections, while also examining the challenges of winning the support of Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw. In this post, I examine the issues facing candidates trying to win the support of the civilian contingent of the PEC.
According to the 2008 constitution, one-third of the PEC is comprised of military MPs. This leaves two-thirds of the PEC comprised of civilians. The exact make-up will be unknown until after the elections, but based on the 2010 elections and 2012 by-elections, some assumptions can be made.
Lower House of the Myanmar parliament. (Wikipedia.)
Short of a boycott, the National League for Democracy (NLD) is well placed to win a significant number of seats, which should give it prominent representation in the PEC. But this is also assuming the elections are free and fair and that the PEC is an accurate reflection of parliament's composition.
Former military and government officials, including members of the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), are also likely to figure strongly in this civilian MP group. With the recent rejection of the proportional representation system for the 2015 elections, ethnic groups are less likely to have such an influential representation, meaning that the PEC should largely consist of MPs from the first two parties.
Aung San Suu Kyi remains a popular candidate and will likely have the support of her party, the NLD, as well as other pro-democracy parties. This may extend to a few ethnic groups, even though some are reportedly not very supportive of her.
But as noted in previous posts, Aung San Suu Kyi is ineligible for the presidency and recent comments by parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann seem to confirm this will not change until after 2015. This raises questions about what Aung San Suu Kyi will do, and who the NLD will support. The NLD has no clear succession plan and it is difficult to see Aung San Suu Kyi endorsing another NLD candidate for president, as it would mean nominating someone to a higher position than her who would likely be viewed publicly as her puppet.
In September, Reuters reported that the NLD would support the Shwe Mann, but the party was quick to deny this. However, a recent report claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi had since accepted she will not attain the presidency and is seeking Shwe Mann's assistance to become the next speaker in parliament. But this has not yet been confirmed.
Nonetheless, Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann have seemingly developed a close relationship, almost appearing to be working together towards a shared goal of reform in Myanmar. However, it is more likely that each saw the value in the other's support bases (Aung San Suu Kyi's being the NLD and Shwe Mann's being the USDP), and both were using the other to further their own goals. If the report is true, this could give Shwe Mann considerable support in the new parliament and the PEC.
But Shwe Mann also faces some reputational issues. Before the 2010 elections, several observers predicted Shwe Mann would be appointed president, but he was overlooked for U Thein Sein. This, some speculated, was because Thein Sein was the 'cleanest' of the generals and the best face for the new government. Shwe Mann had reportedly used his position to further his family's private business interests; they of course denied this. Despite Aung San Suu Kyi's apparent acceptance of the Myanmar businessmen formerly known as 'cronies', does the NLD want to support a candidate that the military may not have considered 'clean enough' the first time around?
Yet such a past may reassure other former officials who exploited their connections and who may end up as MPs for other parties. After all, it would be difficult for Shwe Mann to target such activities without his own coming to light.
However, the NLD may not actually trust Shwe Mann and his recent announcement seems to have irritated some NLD members. If the NLD, and especially Aung San Suu Kyi, view him as part of the process that bars her from being eligible, they may choose to support and make deals with another candidate.
Supporting Tatmadaw commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing would likely earn the NLD significant political capital with the armed forces and may improve its ability to influence it. Moreover, Aung San Suu Kyi has rarely criticised Min Aung Hlaing.
It is also difficult to predict which way the USDP will swing, but Thein Sein stands out as a formidable contender. His reputation as a reformer and his leadership in the political transition is also more likely to earn him broader public support than Shwe Mann or Min Aung Hlaing. While the military's influence in the USDP is unknown, it could probably swing votes if it wanted to.
Separately, if Thein Sein can secure national ceasefire agreements, this may earn additional support from ethnic political parties as well as pro-democracy groups. Conversely, continued fighting is unlikely to help Min Aung Hlaing's support in the ethnic groups.
By contrast, NLD may not be inclined to support U Thein Sein. There have been reports of a rift between Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein for some time and she has publicly leveled criticisms at him, while generally avoiding the other two identified contenders. However, if Thein Sein agreed to serve again, but not for a full term, this may not matter. He may receive enough support to serve a few years before handing over to another favourable candidate.