Burma junta 'sweeps presidential race'
Published: 3/02/2011 at 03:31 PM
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RANGOON: Burma's junta-backed party swept a vote for presidential nominations on Thursday, officials said, as part of a secretive process apparently designed to reserve the top job for a key regime insider.

Prime Minister Thein Sein, a general who retired from the army in April last year, was one of three candidates selected by soldiers and lawmakers, Burma officials said, with the president set to be announced on Friday.

A key ally of junta strongman Than Shwe, Thein Sein was tipped for the post even before the vote, supporting fears that the regime held a widely panned election to hide military power behind civilian rule.

Thein Sein "is likely to be announced as the president," said Khin Shwe, a lawmaker for the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the upper house.

The 65-year-old, a career soldier, became a civilian to contest the election as head of the USDP, which claimed an overwhelming majority in the poll.

All three candidates chosen on Thursday were members of the leading party as Burma's military, which has ruled the country since 1962, appeared set to continue its domination.

Under complex parliamentary rules, the upper house, lower house and members of the military each nominate one vice president. A select electoral committee must then approve the candidates and pick one of them as president.

Thein Sein was selected by the lower house, while the military is believed to have nominated Tin Aung Myint Oo, another retired top general and Than Shwe ally.

The upper house picked another USDP member, Sai Mouk Kham.

"They will elect the president from these three vice-presidents tomorrow," said a Burma official.

Than Shwe, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1992, appears not to be among those put forward for the top political post.

But the 77-year-old has been the subject of a storm of conflicting speculation in recent months and many analysts believe he could attempt to retain some sort of control behind the scenes.

The country's first poll in 20 years was marred by the absence of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and claims of cheating and intimidation.

A quarter of the seats were kept aside for the military even before the vote, and the USDP bagged 388 of the national parliament's 493 elected seats.