Aung San Suu Kyi’s friend sworn in as Myanmar president

Nobel Peace Prize winner has vowed to rule ‘from above’

Myanmar's newly-elected president Htin Kyaw, the first leader with no military ties in more than half a century, is sworn into office during an inauguration ceremony. Video: Reuters


Htin Kyaw, a close ally and confidante of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been sworn in as president of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), the first leader of the southeast Asian nation with no military ties in over half a century.

Htin Kyaw was chosen by Suu Kyi, whose National League of Democracy party won a November general election by a landslide, because a constitution drafted by the former junta bars the democracy advocates from the top office.

The road from an isolated military-run Southeast Asian state, shunned by the international community, to becoming a democracy opening up to the world, has been challenging. Suu Kyi needs the military’s backing if it is to complete the switch and she has been forced to make pragmatic decisions.

Powerful junta

A clause in the junta’s constitution disqualifies anyone with close foreign relatives. The veteran rights activist’s late husband, the scholar Michael Aris, and her two sons are British.

Suu Kyi may not be president but she becomes the most powerful civilian leader and will wield huge influence as minister overseeing foreign affairs, education, electric power and energy, as well as the president’s office. Wildly popular, Suu Kyi is referred to as “the Lady”, and she had previously vowed she would rule “above” the next leader.

Htin Kyaw is part of Suu Kyi’s inner circle, running a charity for her and even acting as her driver on occasion. In his speech to the parliament, he called for national reconciliation and echoed Suu Kyi’s line the 2008 constitution needs to be changed. “Our new government will implement national reconciliation, peace in the country, emergence of a constitution that will pave the way to a democratic union, and enhance the living standard of the people,” Htin Kyaw told the chamber. “We have the duty to work for the emergence of a constitution that is appropriate for our country and also in accordance with democratic standards.”

Ethnic tensions

There is renewed attention on how she will deal with relations with the oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority. In a 2013 BBC interview, she was ambiguous in her condemnation of the plight of the Rohingya, saying Buddhists had suffered in the west of Myanmar too. After the interview, she reportedly said: “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”. – (Additional reporting Reuters)