11 Mar 2016

Myanmar's new government selects chosen leader

8:40 am on 11 March 2016

Myanmar's new government led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has announced its candidate for President.

He's 69-year-old U Htin Kyaw, a close friend of Ms Suu Kyi.

U Htin Kyaw talks with media in February at Myanmar's Lower house Parliament in the capital city of Naypyidaw.

U Htin Kyaw talks with media in February at Myanmar's Lower house Parliament. Photo: AFP

An Oxford university graduate with a degree in economics, Htin Kyaw's father-in-law was one of the founders of the National League for Democracy swept the polls in November last year.

His eventual election to the post will be the last act in the preparations for government which began soon after the National League for Democracy swept the polls in November last year, ending the decades-long military junta leadership.

Political change in Myanmar over the last five months had been profound - the election that resulted in the NLD taking 80 percent of votes set in train a political transformation which kicks off in earnest next month, when Ms Suu Kyi and her party finally take the reins.

Aung San Suu Kyi arriving for the new lower house parliamentary session in Naypyidaw.

Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the new lower house parliamentary session in Naypyidaw in January. Photo: AFP

She appeared resigned to the fact she would have to work around a clause in the Constitution which cynically bars her from the top job because her children are foreigners.

But her party has an outright majority in both houses of Parliament, with control over law-making - even with the army retaining some 25 percent of the seats via the constitution they drew up for themselves in 2008.

Dr Nick Farrelly is with the Myanmar Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra.

He said the coming year would be a huge one for the NLD, an inexperienced government coming into power in a country with a host of problems that would test even the most experienced administration.

"You'll see mistakes" he said, "But the NLD will learn quickly, and you'll soon see things being down in Myanmar in a different way"

And while the army and its parliamentary presence - the Union Solidarity and Development Party, may have been swept from power, they were not unhappy about that fact, he said.

"From the perspective of the armed forces' high command, everything is going to plan" he said.

"They decided back in the early 2000s that military rule was unsustainable in the long term, and they set about working through the change".

Hardest task yet to come

Chief among the most immediate problems faced by the new government would be the fractious and at times violent stand-off between the national armed forces - the Tatmadaw, and the numerous ethnic armies in Myanmar's northern states.

A recent ceasefire agreement with some of the groups was in danger of collapse, and Khon Ja, an activist from the northern Kachin State, where a civil war stills raged, said she doubted the NLD had the experience or political clout to sort the problems out.

Khon Ja, an activist from the restive Kachin State in Myanmar's north, said the new government could only be effective if it worked with the Tatmadaw to solve issues like land rights and jade smuggling.

Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party cheer as they watch polling station counts on a giant screen outside the party headquarters in Yangon.

Supporters cheer on the Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD during Myanmar's election in November 2015. Photo: AFP

"But the Tatmadaw are heavily involved in the economy" she said.

"How can they really be challenged?"

One of the dozens of new NLD MPs in the capital Naaypyidaw, is Zin Mar Aung. Like her party leader, she is an activist turned politician, having served years in prison for protesting against the military government in the 1990s.

She said the peace process would take centre stage with the new government.

"The national process of reconciliation is very important to us ... it's our goal to become more inclusive" she said.

As the NLD grapples with dozens of issues - from education to land law, the reform of the judiciary, the agriculture sector and many others ... their catch-cry remains national reconciliation.

For Myanmar Times editor Thomas Kean, peace with the warring ethnic groups would be the hardest nut for the fledgling government to crack.

"There are no angels in the Myanmar peace process."

"The armed groups involved are linked to issues like child soldiers, opium smuggling, laying land mines around villages, burning homes, murdering civilians, things like that."

As the NLD settles into its role as government, it's likely to find that winning the election was the easy part ... running the country will be a much bigger challenge.

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