Myanmar parliament elects Suu Kyi confidant as president

Htin Kyaw is first head of state who does not hail from a military background since 1960s

 

Myanmar’s parliament has appointed a close friend and ally of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as its first civilian president in 53 years.

Htin Kyaw will act as a proxy for Ms Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy achieved a landslide election win in November, but the veteran rights activist is barred from the presidency by the ruling military junta’s constitution.

Htin Kyaw will assume his position on April 1st. His appointment is the latest stage in Myanmar’s epochal transformation from an isolated southeast Asian state, shunned by the international community, into a democracy that is opening up to the world.

Ms Suu Kyi, a wildly popular figure in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) known as “the Lady”, vowed she would rule “above” the next leader. Talks with the military to find a way around the constitution failed.

Expectations are high among Myanmar’s 51.5 million people that Ms Suu Kyi will be able to resolve the country’s many problems, from the need for faster economic growth to ethnic tensions.

“Today’s result is because of the love of people for her. It is the victory of my sister Aung San Suu Kyi,” Htin Kyaw told Reuters after his appointment.

Htin Kyaw is not a politician, but has a long association with Ms Suu Kyi. After she and the NLD won the election in 1990, Ms Suu Kyi spent 15 of the next 22 years under house arrest after the junta annulled the election, and Htin Kyaw was jailed during that period for trying to help her travel outside of Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon.

He runs a charity dedicated to her mother, and has occasionally been her driver.

Ms Suu Kyi’s father Aung San, who achieved independence for Myanmar, was successful in bringing together various national groups and there are high hopes that she will also succeed in healing ethnic divisions.

Htin Kyaw’s appointment was never really in doubt, after the NLD won 80 per cent of the vote in November’s election. He received 360 of the 652 votes cast in both houses, the parliamentary official counting the votes said.

In second place was military-nominated Myint Swe, who received 213 votes and becomes first vice-president. The nomination of the former intelligence chief was controversial as he led a brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 2007 and is blacklisted by the United States.

The second vice-president was another NLD candidate, Henry Van Thio, who got 79 votes. He is a member of the Chin ethnic group from the northwest of Myanmar.

While the junta has conceded power, it remains influential, retaining three key ministries and a veto over any changes Ms Suu Kyi tries to implement to the constitution drafted by the military.

Additional reporting: Reuters