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Factbox: Myanmar's shift to democracy
October 5, 2010 / 5:01 AM / 7 years ago

Factbox: Myanmar's shift to democracy

(Reuters) - Myanmar will hold its first election in two decades on November 7 as part of a process critics say has been carefully crafted to ensure the military retains its five-decade grip on power.

Below are details about Myanmar’s stop-start journey to the election and how the country will choose a president and form civilian-led legislatures, a judiciary and a new central government, according to its 2008 constitution.

LONG ROAD TO ELECTIONS

-- The National League for Democracy party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a 1990 election with a landslide, securing 392 of the 485 parliamentary seats in the first multi-party general election in 30 years. The military refused to hand over power, saying a new constitution first had to be drafted.

-- A National Convention was formed in 1993 to draft a constitution, made up mostly of people hand-picked by the military, but the process was fraught with adjournments, walkouts, bickering and cries of foul play.

-- Then Prime Minister Khin Nyunt announced a 7-step “roadmap to democracy” in 2003 but gave no firm timetable. The junta appointed a 54-member constitution-drafting commission in 2007.

-- The government announced in 2008 that it would hold an election in 2010. A constitutional referendum was held in May 2008, during which 92.48 percent of people voted in favor of the charter, with a voter turnout of 98.1 percent, the junta said.

-- Election laws were announced in March 2010. The timing of the poll was not announced until August 13, when the regime set the November 7 date, giving parties little time to prepare.

PARLIAMENTARY POLITICS

-- Polls will be held nationwide to elect civilian representatives for legislative assemblies, or “Hluttaws,” at national and regional level, for five-year terms. At least 27 million of Myanmar’s 50 million people are eligible voters.

-- A lower house of parliament, known as the Pyithu Hluttaw, will have 440 seats with representatives elected in 330 constituencies. A senate, or Amyotha Hluttaw, will have 224 representatives. There will be up to 900 seats in 14 regional assemblies of varying sizes.

-- Voters will cast three ballots, one for the lower house, one for the senate and one for a regional assembly. Seats in each constituency will be contested on a first-past-the-post basis, with voters allowed to choose one candidate for each chamber.

-- The role of the assemblies will be to pass and debate legislation, although not all presidential decisions will require legislative approval. The Hluttaws will choose their own house speakers and committee members. Parliamentarians are guaranteed freedom of speech and voting.

ROLES FOR THE MILITARY

-- A quarter of the seats in the lower house, the senate, and the seven state and seven regional assemblies have been reserved for serving military officers, appointed by the armed forces chief.

-- Former military personnel are allowed to become lawmakers upon resignation from the armed forces. Scores of soldiers, among them some 27 government ministers, have recently retired to join pro-junta political parties to contest the polls.

-- Serving military officers will be nominated by the commander-in-chief of Defence Services and placed in charge of the defense, interior and border affairs ministries. The president can also select military officers to head other ministries.

-- The president would grant the commander-in-chief full control of the country during a state of emergency, including complete legislative, executive and judicial power.

-- With a perceived threat of “disintegration of the union, disintegration of national solidarity or loss of sovereign power” the commander-in-chief can seize control without the president’s blessing.

POWERFUL PRESIDENT

-- The head of state of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, as the country will be called, will be a president, not elected by the people but chosen by a Presidential Electoral College consisting of members of both the lower house and senate.

-- The president’s term will be five years, with a maximum two terms. Two vice presidents will be selected from among unsuccessful presidential candidates.

-- The president, who must be a civilian, will appoint government ministers, the attorney general and chief justice. The lower house can only challenge the president’s appointments if nominees are not deemed qualified.

-- The president or his office is not answerable to parliament or judicial courts, provided he acts within the constitution. The president has the power to grant pardons and amnesties, offer honorary titles, appoint and remove state officials and sign or revoke international treaties.

HANDING OVER THE REINS

-- The constitution has not stipulated a timeframe for the handover of power and the junta will remain in charge until it takes place.

-- Hluttaws are likely to formalized, a president chosen and a government appointed within a few weeks of the election, perhaps as long as three months. Parliament must convene its first regular session within 90 days of the polls.

Compiled by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel

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