How to become the President of Burma

With the outpouring of news that the National League for Democracy (NLD) has nominated Htin Kyaw and Henry Van Thio for the posts of Vice-President on Thursday, it’s an appropriate time to examine how the whole process works.

The present-day machinations of how a President is elected are quite confusing and byzantine to outside observers, as this system is governed by the 2008 Constitution, which was drafted by the military-appointed National Convention. For example, what’s the significance of nominating Vice-Presidents? The system is definitely not rocket science, but it is unnecessarily complex by design.Here’s how this system works.

In a nutshell

Unlike many countries around the world, Burmese voters do not directly elect their country’s head of state. Indeed, Burma is among only 33 countries, including one-party communist states like Vietnam and Laos,  as well as multi-party democracies like South Africa, Israel and Italy, all of which elect their heads of state via their legislatures. In Burma’s case, the President is elected by the Presidential Electoral College, from a pool of 3 Vice-Presidents.

A photo of the presumptive next President, Htin Kyaw.

Burma’s executive branch is led by a President (သမ္မတ), who serves as head of state, alongside two Vice-Presidents (ဒုတိယသမ္မတ, often abbreviated ဒုသမ္မတ), for a maximum of 2 5 year terms.

Who can serve as President?

The Constitution sets forth a checklist of 7 minimum qualifications for President:

Required Minimum Qualification
Loyalty: is ‘loyal to the Union and its citizens’
Citizenship: is a Burmese citizen with parents of Burmese nationality, also born in Burmese territory
Age: is at least 45 years old
Experience: is ‘well-acquainted’ with the country’s affairs, including politics, administrative, economic and military affairs.
Residency: has resided in Burma for at least 20 consecutive years at the time of election as President
Foreign allegiance: must not possess or have family (including one’s parents, spouse, legitimate children and children-in-law) that possess foreign citizenship or ‘owe allegiance to a foreign power’
Catch-all: Must also meet the qualifications for members of parliament (MPs), including those defined in the 2010 Election Law (The last requirement imposes a number of additional requirements by invoking the Election Law, which is outside the Constitution).

The ‘foreign allegiance’ qualification, the much-derided Article 59(f) or ပုဒ်မ ၅၉(စ), disqualified Aung San Suu Kyi from the running, as her deceased husband and two sons, are British subjects. Ironically, it has inadvertently been used to disqualify the military’s choices, including General Myint Swe, who was disqualified in 2012 because his son-in-law had Australian citizenship. (Apparently this son-in-law has been able to restore Burmese citizenship within the last 4 years, as the military has once again nominated Myint Swe as its VP pick).

Who elects the President?

Constitutional authority to elect the President rests in a body called the Presidential Electoral College (PEC or သမ္မတရွေးချယ်တင်မြှောက်ရေးအဖွဲ့).

The chambers of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw.

The PEC consists of all 664 MPs that make up the national-level Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (ပြည်ထောင်စုလွှတ်တော်), who are divided into 3 voting arms:

  1. 330 elected representatives from the Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house
  2. 168 elected representatives from the Amyotha Hluttaw, the upper house
  3. 166 unelected military representatives from the Tatmadaw, broken out as follows:
    • 110 military representatives from the Pyithu Hluttaw
    • 56 military representatives from the Amyotha Hluttaw

The nomination and election process

  1. Representatives from each of these three groups nominates a candidate for Vice-President (VP), as Khin San Hlaing did on Thursday, in nominating Htin Kyaw.
  2. Afterward, each of these three groups votes to elect a Vice-President, based on the nominated candidates.
  3. The Speakers and Vice-Speakers of the two parliamentary chambers then confirm the three nominated VPs, based on their review of the legally mandated minimum qualifications.
  4. The three groups jointly convene and vote as a single body, the PEC, to vote for the vetted VPs.
  5. The VP with the highest number of votes is elected President. The two losing candidates are elected Vice Presidents.

What’s next?

After the President and Vice-Presidents are elected, the Constitution requires them to:

  • Resign from their Hluttaw seats (if they are elected representatives)
  • Resign from their civil service appointments (if they are part of the civil service)
  • Disavow membership in any political party
  • Disavow paid employment or appointment to any other offices
  • Publicly release a list of family assets (land, houses, buildings, addresses, savings, valuables, and the valuation of these assets) to the head of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

They then take take an oath of office:

“I … do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will be loyal to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the citizens and hold always in esteem non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty. I will uphold and abide by the Constitution and its Laws. I will carry out the responsibilities uprightly to the best of my ability and strive for further flourishing the eternal principles of justice, liberty and equality. I will dedicate myself to the service of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.”

“ကျွန်ုပ် — သည် ပြည်ထောင်စုသမ္မတမြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်နှင့် နိုင်ငံသားများအပေါ် သစ္စာစောင့်သိရိုသေပြီး ပြည်ထောင်စုမပြိုကွဲရေး၊ တိုင်းရင်းသားစည်းလုံးညီညွတ်မှုမပြိုကွဲရေး၊ အချုပ်အခြာအာဏာတည်တံ့ခိုင်မြဲရေးတို့ကို ထာဝစဉ်ဦးထိပ်ပန်ဆင် ဆောင်ရွက်ပါမည်။ ကျွန်ုပ်သည် ဤနိုင်ငံတော်ဖွဲ့စည်းပုံအခြေခံဥပဒေကို ထိန်းသိမ်းစောင့်သိလိုက်နာရိုသေပြီး နိုင်ငံတော်၏ဥပဒေများကို လိုက်နာကျင့်သုံးဆောင်ရွက်ပါမည်။ မိမိ၏ တာဝန်ဝတ္တရားများကို ဖြောင့်မတ်မှန်ကန်စွာဖြင့် အစွမ်းကုန်ဆောင်ရွက်ပါမည်။ ပြည်ထောင်စုသမ္မတမြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်တွင် တရားမျှတခြင်း၊ လွတ်လပ်ခြင်းနှင့် ညီမျှခြင်းတည်းဟူသော လောကပါလတရားများ ပိုမိုထွန်းကားရေးအတွက် ဆောင်ရွက်ပါမည်။ ကျွန်ုပ်သည် ပြည်ထောင်စုသမ္မတမြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်အကျိုးငှာ နိုင်ငံတော်အား မိမိ၏ အသက်နှင့်ကိုယ်ကိုအပ်နှင်းသည်ဟု လေးနက်တည်ကြည်စွာ ကြေညာ၍ ကတိသစ္စာပြုသည်”

The built-in military advantage

A March 12, 2016 article in the Myanma Alin announcing the nomination of General Myint Swe as Vice-President.

In contrast to the norm around the world, the present-day system gives Burma two Vice-Presidents, one of whom by default, will be a military-selected candidate. However, in comparison to the President’s role, the role of Vice-President is quite nebulous. Constitutionally speaking, the Vice-Presidents serve in the following capacities:

  1. Member of the Union Government (alongside the President, Ministers and Attorney-General)
  2. Member of the National Defense and Security Council (which declares states of emergencies)
  3. Member of the Financial Commission (which vets and recommends the Union Budget to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw)

Latest results in the presidential race

As of March 11, 2016, the three Vice-Presidents have been nominated and elected by the three bodies of the PEC (voting results below). According to the news, the President will be selected on this coming Tuesday, March 15.

Pyithu Hluttaw

Name Party Votes %
Htin Kyaw NLD 274 86%
Sai Mauk Kham USDP 29 9%
Invalid N/A 14 4%
317 100%

Amyotha Hluttaw

Name Party Votes %
Henry Van Thio NLD 148 89%
Khin Aung Myint USDP 13 8%
Invalid N/A 6 4%
167 100%

Military representatives

Name Party Votes %
Myint Swe 166 100%

One thought on “How to become the President of Burma

  1. Wagaung says:

    Hardly a surprise that the military put forward the same hard liner for the second time to protect their own interests, and may even try to scupper the NLD’s plan by tactical voting so Henry Van Thio instead of Htin Kyaw becomes president although it seems a bit of a stretch.

    We can at least expect the military to thwart the new administration’s attempts at genuine reform which encroaches not just on their own turf defence but ‘livelihoods’ that they have got accustomed to. Administration here is the operative word as the GAD (General Administration Department) remains under the military, an urgent reform of which the country needs would be like cleaning out the Augean Stables even without it being off limits to the new ‘civilian government’ in this most peculiar power sharing arrangement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s