From Suu Kyi's schoolmate to Myanmar's proxy president

Myanmar's newly elected president Htin Kyaw (second left) and NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) leaving the parliament at Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on March 15, 2016.
Myanmar's newly elected president Htin Kyaw (second left) and NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) leaving the parliament at Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on March 15, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

NAYPYIDAW, MYANMAR (AFP) - Myanmar's next president may be little known outside his homeland but for Aung San Suu Kyi, who plucked her schoolmate and longtime aide from the political sidelines to be her proxy, it is Htin Kyaw's loyalty that is paramount.

The 69-year-old was comfortably elected Myanmar's first civilian president since 1962 on Tuesday (March 15), a position he will hold in place of the Nobel laureate who is banned from top office by the army-drafted constitution.

The son of a revered poet who has helped run Suu Kyi's charitable foundation in recent years, Htin Kyaw is billed as someone with a high level of education, personal standing and absolute trustworthiness to "The Lady".

Yet he remains an unknown and untested quantity with many asking how much influence he will wield over a government he will only nominally lead and in a complex political system where the military still wields considerable influence.

Suu Kyi has pledged to pull the strings of power from "above" her appointee, though in this delicate and secretive transition, she has not revealed how the arrangement will work.

But Htin Kyaw's appointment suggests she thinks he has sufficient pedigree in the country's long struggle against junta rule to be embraced by the millions of voters who swept to the polls in November to validate her star power and simple message of change.

He is believed to have joined the party last year - although the NLD has not confirmed exactly when.

Nonetheless the soft-spoken economics graduate's life has been entwined with Myanmar's democracy struggle and Suu Kyi's movement.

 

His father Min Thu Wun, was a national poet and early NLD member while his wife Su Su Lwin is a sitting party MP whose late father was once party spokesman.

"He's not just anybody, he comes from a very political family," Bertil Lintner, a veteran Myanmar commentator told AFP.

His inner circle closeness to Suu Kyi was illustrated in 2010 when the Nobel Laureate was finally released from years of house arrest.

As she greeted jubilant crowds from behind the gate of her crumbling Yangon mansion, Htin Kyaw stood to her right.

During those heady but often unsure times when Suu Kyi remained under intense military scrutiny, he could sometimes be seen at the wheel of her car, shuttling her between high-level meetings.

For the last four years he has been a senior executive in Suu Kyi's charity, which provides development aid and skills training to her Kawhmu constituency and other areas of the impoverished country.

In an interview with AFP about the charity's work in July 2015, Htin Kyaw spoke of the steep climb Myanmar faced to claw its way out of poverty.

"You see that we are doing a lot, which means we need a lot. We are just doing only a very small portion of what is required for the nation," he said.

Born in 1946, Htin Kyaw earned a master's degree in 1968 from the Yangon Economics University and went on to complete further courses abroad, including in the UK, the US and Japan.

According to an official biography released by the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, he studied at the University of London's Institute of Computer Science from 1971 to 72.

In a varied career he worked as a university teacher and also held positions in the finance and national planning and foreign affairs ministries in the late 1970s and 80s before retiring from government service as the military tightened its grip.