Trusted NLD veteran set to be next Myanmar president

Mr Htin Kyaw, seen in a photo taken last month, is widely expected to be voted president. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made it clear that she will be the real power behind the president, who will essentially be her proxy.
Mr Htin Kyaw, seen in a photo taken last month, is widely expected to be voted president. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made it clear that she will be the real power behind the president, who will essentially be her proxy.PHOTO: REUTERS

Party nominee Htin Kyaw, who is Suu Kyi's family friend, fulfils criteria of 'loyalty, discipline and qualifications'

Sixty-nine-year-old Htin Kyaw, a trusted veteran of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and long-time family friend of party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is set to become Myanmar's next president after being nominated by the party.

His name was read out in the Lower House yesterday morning, in a culmination of weeks of speculation as Ms Suu Kyi herself is barred from the post under the junta-era Constitution because of her foreign family ties.

Her late husband and two sons are British citizens.

The new president will form a Cabinet and formally take power on April 1. The unprecedented transition marks the first time in power for a party that has spent decades in the wilderness under successive iron-fisted military regimes, until the military opened up the political space with a calibrated transition in 2011.

Analysts say Mr Htin Kyaw's nomination is bound to have been agreed on in backroom talks with the powerful army.  Ms Suu Kyi has met armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing thrice since the NLD swept last November's general election.

  • Respected leader and confidant of Suu Kyi

  • Mr Htin Kyaw, 69, comes from the National League for Democracy (NLD) elite.

    He is the son of prominent writer and intellectual Min Thu Wun, who was an early leader of the NLD and well known to Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's father, independence hero General Aung San. 

    Mr Htin Kyaw's wife Su Su Lwin is close to Ms Suu Kyi and is an NLD Member of Parliament. She is the daughter of a former army colonel, the late U Lwin, an early member of the NLD who helped set up and run the party. During Ms Suu Kyi's some 15 years of imprisonment or house arrest, U Lwin was one of the very few who was allowed to see her.

    Mr Htin Kyaw reportedly has an economics degree from Rangoon University. As a writer, he has used the pen name Dala Ban, the name of a famous Mon warrior, as he is part ethnic Mon. He has had a varied career, holding positions in the civil service in the 1970s and 1980s, and lately helping to run the Daw Khin Kyi foundation - named after Ms Suu Kyi's mother - which provides development aid and skills training in the NLD leader's constituency Kawhmu, south of Yangon.  

    It is clear that he will be a proxy for Ms Suu Kyi, who has said she will be "above" the President. "Htin Kyaw is perfect for the role," Yangon-based independent analyst Richard Horsey told The Straits Times. "He is widely respected as a person of integrity and has been a long-time confidant of Aung San Suu Kyi."

  • Nirmal Ghosh

 

The party's nominee from the Upper House was Mr Henry Van Thio, a relatively little-known NLD MP from the ethnic Chin minority, who is expected to take one of the two vice-presidential slots.

The army-backed USDP, which forms a small minority in Parliament, yesterday also went through the motions of nominating one name each from the Lower and Upper Houses.

A committee was set up to vet the nominations, and it is expected to announce its decision today.

MPs will then vote in what is in effect an elimination round, which will leave two candidates standing - almost certainly the two NLD candidates.

The army, which has 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, will announce the name of its candidate separately. That candidate will figure in a final round of voting on the three names at a joint session of Parliament, probably next week.

Whoever wins the final round becomes president, while the other two will become vice-presidents.

Ms Suu Kyi has made it clear that she will be the real power behind the president, who will essentially be her proxy.  Meeting some NLD MPs later yesterday evening, she told them there had been three criteria for choosing the party's presidential candidate - loyalty, discipline and qualifications.

The party still hopes, at some stage, to amend the Constitution to allow her to become president.

Shortly after Mr Htin Kyaw's name was announced and the Lower House was adjourned, Ms Pyone Kaythi, an NLD lawmaker, told The Straits Times: "This is part of the process. We remain cautiously optimistic."

Another MP, Mr Soe Htay, an ethnic Karen, said: "This is another step (but) the army still has 25 per cent of Parliament. It won't be a real democracy until they are under civilian control."

In an e-mail, historian Thant Myint-U told The Straits Times: "Myanmar's transition has been a long and largely choreographed process. It's been evolutionary but with important turning points. The next couple of weeks and the transfer of power to an NLD-led government will be one of them."

Mr Nyantha Maw Lin, managing director (Myanmar) of consultancy firm Vriens & Partners, wrote in an e-mail: "Htin Kyaw is loyal, trusted and credentialed, and this explains the party's decision to nominate him.

"Both the NLD and the military will need to cooperate given the shared stakes they have in Myanmar's continued political and economic development."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2016, with the headline 'Trusted NLD veteran set to be next Myanmar president'. Print Edition | Subscribe