Myanmar parliament begins choosing government

Myanmar's first parliament in more than two decades nominated five vice-presidential candidates Tuesday, one of whom will become president and lead the new military-dominated government.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962 and is now essentially handpicking the country's president: Through its own delegates in parliament and their civilian allies, it holds an 80 percent majority in the new legislature, so the new leader is certain to be a top member of the outgoing junta.

The most prominent nominee among five vying for the three vice president's seats is Thein Sein, a general who served as prime minister in the outgoing ruling junta and also heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in last November's general election.

Thein Sein's seniority makes him the most likely pick for the top post, but a second top military figure, Lt. Gen. Tin Aung Myint Oo, who was also a senior member of the junta, is another candidate, said a person familiar with the proceedings who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to release the information.

State radio confirmed that the lower and upper houses each nominated two candidates, but did not mention Tin Aung Myint Oo, whose name was put forward by the bloc of military appointees in parliament. One-quarter of the seats in each chamber are reserved for military appointees.

Three of the candidates are members of ethnic minorities, and one is certain to be chosen for a VP job. That inclusion is an important gesture because conflict with the country's substantial ethnic groups who seek greater autonomy has long posed a threat to national stability.

Although there appears to be little popular interest in parliament's opening — the widespread perception that the military cheated in last November's general election dashed many hopes for true change — the general public is curious as to who may become head of state.

"I am not interested in the opening of parliament but I am a little curious to know who will be the country's first president. It could be one of the military leaders," said a worker at a hotel in Naypyitaw. He spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid unwanted official attention for speaking to a journalist.

The party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won elections in 1990 that the junta refused to honor, boycotted last November's vote and is without representation in the new legislature.

No matter who becomes president, Senior Gen. Than Shwe — the head of the junta — is expected to remain a dominant force in the country.

Speaking on a radio call-in show on the BBC World Service, Suu Kyi was asked whether the prospect of a figure other than Than Shwe becoming the country's chief executive boded well for Myanamr.

"I don't know because it depends on who's going to be in charge of the army," she replied. "Whoever is in charge of the army is going to have the power as much, if not more, than the president himself."