NAYPYIDAW, MYANMAR (AFP) - A trusted aide of Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday (March 11) sailed through a lower house vote to be Myanmar's presidential nominee, clearing a key hurdle to becoming the country's first civilian leader in generations.
Htin Kyaw, a respected writer who helps run Suu Kyi's charitable foundation, was seen as the democracy veteran's top choice to act as her proxy.
One further vote of approval from the combined houses is needed before he can officially be anointed leader of the nation that has been run by the military for decades.
"Htin Kyaw, the executive committee member of the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, has got the most supporting votes," said lower house speaker Win Myint.
Suu Kyi was first to cast her ballot in an election that saw Htin Kyaw win support from across the party spectrum, winning 274 votes out of 317 in the lower house, where there are 255 National League for Democracy MPs.
The Nobel laureate is beloved by many in Myanmar and remains the uncontested figurehead of the country's long democracy struggle, but she is barred from the top political office by a junta-scripted constitution.
She has vowed to rule "above" the next president as she strives to meet the soaring expectations of millions of voters who delivered her National League for Democracy a thundering election win in November.
Htin Kyaw will now go up against two other candidates, an ethnic Chin MP Henry Van Theu nominated by the NLD in the upper house, and one yet-to-be-named candidate chosen by the army, which still controls a significant slice of the government.
But with Suu Kyi's backing and strong family ties to the NLD, Htin Kyaw is expected to clinch the top post with a comfortable lead.
The two other candidates would then become vice presidents.
Even the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar, which normally shies away from coverage of Suu Kyi and her party, on Friday said because of the NLD majority Htin Kyaw "is favoured to ascend to the presidency absent any irregularities in the process".
Though he did not run in November's polls, Htin Kyaw is a close confidante of Suu Kyi and was at her side when she was released from years of house arrest in 2010.
He commands significant respect in Myanmar, partly because his father was a legendary writer and early member of the NLD. He is married to sitting NLD MP Su Su Lwin, whose late father was the party's respected spokesman.
Suu Kyi, barred from top political office because she married and had children with a foreigner, has not outlined what her future role will be.
Some have suggested she could mimic India's Sonia Gandhi, who wielded huge influence over her Congress party's administration despite having no official government role.
There has also been speculation that she could take the role of foreign minister, giving her a cabinet post and a seat at the country's influential military-dominated Security Council, though that would also force her to step down from her party role.