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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2281

Myanmar Parliament Elects Suu Kyi Aide as President

Yangon, 16 March, (Asiantribune.com):

After the massive November election success of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the party has elected the nation’s first civilian leaders after more than 50 years of military rule.

A close adviser and loyal friend to Aung San Suu Kyi, the 69-year-old was nominated by the National League for Democracy party last week and voted into the presidency by parliament on Tuesday.

Reporters in the capital, Naypyidaw, were not allowed to enter the parliament chamber when the voting took place.
A final tally giving Htin Kyaw 360 out of 652 votes was met with applause. The two runners up, military nominee Myint Swe and ethnic minority Chin candidate Henry Van Thio, will become first and second vice-presidents respectively.

Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a member of parliament, cast her vote and later smiled broadly and clapped when the results were announced.

The parliament chamber was mostly a light orange, the colour of the NLD majority who wore Burmese longyi skirts and traditional hats. Also present were members of ethnic parties and military representatives.
Myanmar held elections in November, with the NLD winning a majority in both houses of parliament.

On April 1, Htin Kyaw will become the country’s first proper civilian leader in 54 years.

Suu Kyi, who is barred from the presidency under an army-drafted constitution, has made clear she will be “above the president” and Htin Kyaw is expected to act as a proxy.

Suu Kyi has already said she will control the President, who would have “no authority.” She will have rely on Htin Kyaw ‘s unbending loyalty, since he will legally be the head of state. It remains unknown whether Suu Kyi will hold any position at all in the new administration other than “puppeteer in chief,” as a leading Burmese commentator described the arrangement.

Before last week, few people knew much about Htin Kyaw. He was not among the NLD’s candidates during the election campaign, and is not known ever to have delivered a political speech in public. But many Burmese have taken to him quickly, with social-media memes declaring him “our President.” Burma historian Thant Myint-U praised the choice, calling Htin Kyaw “well respected [with] unimpeachable integrity, and a very nice man.” Burmese netizens were upset by international media reports on his nomination that referred to him first as a “driver” for Suu Kyi (although he did sometimes drive her, a party member said he was never her official chauffeur).

He’s more than that, they insist, pointing to his years of service to the cause of Burmese democracy, and the fact his father was a renowned poet. This pedigree is an important factor in a country where lineage matters (Suu Kyi herself initially gained adoration as the daughter of independence hero General Aung San, but has more than surpassed dynastic expectations).

A comprehensive official biography for the new President has not been made available, but reports say Htin Kyaw was a schoolmate of Suu Kyi — who is one year his senior — at Yangon’s Methodist English High School. He gained an economics degree before going on to study computer science at the University of London. Htin Kyaw worked for the Burmese government from the mid-1970s in the Ministries of Industry and Foreign Affairs, before resigning in 1992, two years after the junta ignored an earlier NLD election victory. He has since built a reputation as a devoted confidante to NLD chairperson Suu Kyi. He holds a directorship at a charitable foundation named for Suu Kyi’s mother, and is married to a newly elected NLD lawmaker.

During her years of house arrest, Htin Kyaw is said to have been a link between Suu Kyi and the outside world. In 2000, during a period when she was supposedly free to travel, he joined her in an attempted visit to the central Burmese city of Mandalay. According to accounts given to the BBC, Htin Kyaw was arrested after a confrontation with an army officer at a railway station, and spent four months in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison, as Suu Kyi was returned to house arrest.

“What I noticed is he doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor,” one of his former cellmates, Thein Swe, now an NLD Member of Parliament, told the BBC. “He is not interested in people with power. He treats everyone equally and respectfully.”

His personable qualities may prove useful; the role of President could have him attending international summits, and rubbing shoulders with world leaders. But Htin Kyaw — selected primarily for his loyalty — is not likely to veer from the wishes of Suu Kyi. In all important ways, she will be the country’s new leader.

- Asian Tribune -

 Htin Kyaw - a close adviser and loyal friend to Aung San Suu Kyi elected as the first civilian president of Myanmar
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