Myanmar paramount leader not nominated for president: MPs

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar Tue Feb 1, 2011 4:07am EST

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NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar's reclusive paramount leader Than Shwe is not among a list of presidential candidates to be nominated by parliament, lawmakers said on Tuesday, signaling an end to his 18 years of direct rule.

The country's new parliament is expected to vote on Thursday to elect the country's first civilian president after nearly half a century of military rule.

Assembly members told Reuters that the 78-year-old military strongman's name was not among five candidates for the post.

But the top general is unlikely to fade away. He is expected to either remain in charge of the powerful military or to take a significant behind-the-scenes political role in the resource-rich country formerly known as Burma.

Most expect the presidency to go to the current prime minister, Thein Sein, the military junta's fourth in command, indicating a continuation of the status quo.

The appointment of a president is a priority for Myanmar's first elected parliament in half a century as it convenes this week in the capital, Naypyitaw, following the first elections in two decades on November 7, a poll widely criticized as a sham.

The names of candidates were given to Reuters by members of the senate, lower house and from among military-appointed parliamentarians on condition their names be withheld because they could faced jail if found to have spoken to the media.

Pro-democracy forces have little voice in the process. Both the lower and upper houses are dominated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a proxy for the military government which swept the election.

A lower house representative said a committee comprised of its members had agreed to nominate Thein Sein, or an ethnic Karen politician, Saw Thein Aung.

An army-appointed assembly member said the junta's fifth-in-command, Tin Aung Myint Oo, would be nominated.

A senate legislator said members of the house had agreed on two presidential candidates -- either Aye Maung, leader of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, or Sai Mo Kham, a member of the army-backed USDP.

It was not known whether Than Shwe's long-time deputy, Maung Aye, would play a future role. The junta's third-in-command, Thura Shwe Mann, was elected lower house speaker on Monday.

The candidate with most votes from three special legislative committees will become president for a five-year term and the two unsuccessful nominees will serve as vice-presidents.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)

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