Another Suu Kyi ally becomes president in Myanmar

Myanmar's new president Win Myint (left) with the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a ceremony held to mark the seventh anniversary of Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Feb 1, 2018.
Myanmar's new president Win Myint (left) with the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a ceremony held to mark the seventh anniversary of Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Feb 1, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Myanmar's Parliament chose 66-year-old politician Win Myint as president on Wednesday (March 28), ensuring that the position continues to be filled by someone loyal to de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr Win Myint, the former Lower House speaker, won 403 out of 636 votes in Parliament, in a race that included vice-presidents Myint Swe and Henry Van Thio.

Mr Win Myint had resigned from his post last Wednesday, on the same day that previous president Htin Kyaw stepped down from his post, in what is seen as a carefully orchestrated manoeuvre by the ruling National League for Democracy (NDP) party.

Mr Htin Kyaw resigned because of ill health.

Mr Win Myint, a member of the NLD's key decision-making body, is a former court lawyer who won a seat in the 1990 election that was later not recognised by the then ruling junta.

He returned to Parliament in the 2012 by-election that also ushered Ms Suu Kyi into the legislative body. After winning a seat again in the 2015 general election, he was appointed Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, or Lower House.

The native of Danubyu in the Ayeyarwady Region was known to be a strict Speaker, keeping both NLD lawmakers and military appointees in check if they did not prepare their statements before Parliament, according to the Irrawaddy journal.

Myanmar's civilian government shares power with the military under the junta-drafted Constitution which gives the latter control over three key ministries, as well as a quarter of parliamentary seats.

Under the same Constitution, the president wields executive powers. But Ms Suu Kyi, by virtue of having two sons who are British citizens, is barred from the post. To get around this, she took the specially created post of State Counsellor, which is supported by its own ministry. The president's role, under this arrangement, is largely ceremonial.

While political analysts expect the presidential transition to be smooth, they were more uncertain about future proceedings of the Lower House.

Mr Win Myint's former role as Lower House Speaker was filled by independent lawmaker T Khun Myat, in a surprise decision last week given that the NLD wields a commanding majority in the legislature.

The new Speaker, who is 67, used to lead a militia in Shan state that was allied with the Myanmar military and was accused of being a drug lord. He served as a director in the Attorney-General's Office, and helped draft the current Constitution.

Mr T Khun Myat also used to be a legislator with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and is close to Mr Shwe Mann, a top junta leader who was later sacked from the USDP for allying with Ms Suu Kyi.

Mr Shwe Mann lost in the 2015 election but was given a role as chairman of the law-reviewing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission - much to the chagrin of the military legislators.

Analysts see Mr T Khun Myat's appointment as Ms Suu Kyi's concession to Mr Shwe Mann, but questioned the soundness of the decision.

"U T Khun Myat has tremendous experience in law and legislation, and yet we do not know the issues and challenges that will come up under his parliamentary leadership," says Mr Soe Myint Aung, a political analyst at the Yangon Centre for Independent Research. "Little is known about the attitudes of the military and the USDP towards him."

Since its sweeping victory in the 2015 election, the NLD has come under criticism for its highly centralised but slow decision-making in government. While the civilian government has no control over the military, Ms Suu Kyi has been condemned for not speaking out against the scorched earth military crackdown against insurgents in Rakhine state, leading to the exodus of some 700,000 Muslim Rohingya to Bangladesh.