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Myanmar to have an elected leader, junta says

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Myanmar to have an elected leader, junta says

Myanmar's next president will be an elected member of parliament, ruling out the country's current military chief as a candidate, state media announced Monday.

Myanmar's ruling generals on Monday convened the first meeting of Parliament in more than two decades, the Associated Press reported. The move completes the impoverished country's transition to a multiparty democracy, according to the ruling military junta.

The opening of Parliament follows elections in November, and release from house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the country's leading dissident. Suu Kyi is now seeking to rebuild her pro-democracy movement, according to the New York Times.

The 440-seat lower house and 224-seat upper house were opened simultaneously Monday in a new building in Naypyitaw, a remote city that replaced the capital, Yangon, in 2005. The 14 regional parliaments, whose members were also elected last November, opened at the same time.

Officially the opening of the two-chamber Parliament will mean the dissolution of the junta that has ruled Myanmar since 1988, when the country was known as Burma.

But the military and its allies hold more than 80 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament, ensuring that the army retains power, as it has since a 1962 coup deposed the last legitimately elected legislature. A single-party parliament under the late dictator Gen. Ne Win was abolished in 1988 after the army crushed a pro-democracy uprising.

Roads leading to the parliament building were sealed off with roadblocks manned by armed police.

Reporters, diplomats and the public were barred from witnessing the proceedings. Publicity for the event has been low-key, though Myanmar state television Monday night showed footage of the opening.

One key question is whether Myanmar's top general, Than Shwe, will become president, the most powerful job under the 2008 Constitution, which came into effect Monday.

Than Shwe, who has successfully crushed uprisings and purged potential rivals inside the military during his nearly two decades as the country's commander in chief, turns 78 on Wednesday, according to official records.

With its allies controlling parliament and loyalists — many recently retired senior junta members — expected to fill top government posts.

"Now that parliament has convened, we have taken a step toward Myanmar's democratic change," said Thein Nyunt, an elected representative and former leader of the National Democratic Force, a party formed by breakaway members of Suu Kyi's political party.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party boycotted last November's polls, claiming the process was unfair and undemocratic. The party was consequently dissolved under a new election law.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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