Burma’s leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has refuted reports suggesting that it might support former military strongman and current house Speaker Shwe Mann as a presidential candidate in general elections scheduled for 2015.
“One senior member of [Aung San] Suu Kyi’s party [the NLD] said it might give its backing for Shwe Mann,” read a report published by London-based Reuters late Tuesday. The article soon after cited NLD central committee member Han Tha Myint explaining that the party does not have a fitting number-two choice if Aung San Suu Kyi cannot run.
The juxtaposition appears to have led other reporters to the assumption that the official supported the Speaker, with international headlines booming the likes of “Suu Kyi’s party looks outside its ranks to a former general for president”.
Han Tha Myint’s phone was soon ringing off the hook as he and several other NLD members denied the suggestion that the party had made any official endorsement of the Speaker, who is also the chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
“All I said was that there are many options, among which could be a candidate from outside our party,” Han Tha Myint told DVB by phone on Wednesday. When asked if he told Reuters that his party would back a Shwe Mann bid for presidency if the NLD does not have a suitable candidate, he replied that, “I did not say anything like that.”
Burma’s Constitution forbids anyone with a foreign spouse or children from seeking the presidency, in a controversial clause which some think was drafted specifically to keep Suu Kyi out of the office. The opposition leader was married to a British man and has two sons holding UK passports.
As explained in Reuters’ article, the NLD does not currently have a candidate lined up as a potential successor for incumbent Thein Sein of the USDP.
“We believe there is no number two position in our party,” Han Tha Myint told Reuters. He later explained to DVB that if they cannot find a suitable candidate and they achieve a majority of parliament in the upcoming election, the party may look elsewhere.
Among the possibilities, Han Tha Myint said in a letter addressed to Reuters reporter Paul Mooney on 24 September, was the option of “Proposing somebody outside our party who has the same objectives as us and who thinks like us.”
Reiterating that position to DVB, Han Tha Myint said that while backing another party is conceivable in the absence of a popular and eligible contender, the media may have jumped the gun.
“It’s a hypothetical situation right now and I don’t want to speculate,” he said.