Burma To Elect First 'Civilian' President In Decades

Burma's parliament is preparing to elect its first civilian president after nearly 50 years of military rule.

PM Thein Sein is the front-runner

Burma's parliament is preparing to elect its first civilian president after nearly 50 years of military rule.

They will choose from one of three candidates - Tin Aung Myint Oo, outgoing PM Thein Sein and ethnic Shan Sai Mauk Kham.

All three are members of the military-backed USDP party which won a large majority in November's polls.

The elections were the first to be held in Burma in two decades but were widely condemned as being unfair.

The appointment of a president will be the final step in Burma's so-called "roadmap to democracy" - moving the country from military to civilian rule.

But the elections, which were widely criticised by Western nations and the Burmese pro-democracy opposition, left the military firmly in control of the new parliament.

A quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military.

The three presidential candidates were appointed on Thursday, with Tin Aung Myint Oo the last to be confirmed.

Thein Sein, a trusted ally of top general Than Shwe, is being seen as the most likely future president.

He was one of some 20 military chiefs who stepped down from their army posts before the election to enable them to run as civilian candidates in a move critics said was intended to secure the military's grip on power.

He ran as a leader of the newly-formed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won almost 77% of the vote in the election.

"Everyone is speculating that Thein Sein will become the president," a USDP representative told the Democratic Voice of Burma.

"He is the current prime minister, has a lot of experience and ideas, and is already familiar with the international community."

Than Shwe, the general has ruled Burma since 1992, is not running for the presidency and it remains unclear what role he will play in the future.

Analysts say the 77-year-old is unlikely to relinquish all power and is expected to either remain as head of the powerful military or take a significant behind-the-scenes political position.

The Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, which won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power, is not represented in parliament.

It disbanded ahead of the 7 November election because of election laws that would have forced it to expel its leaders.