NAYPYIDAW - Mr Htin Kyaw, the man chosen by Aung San Suu Kyi to serve as her proxy, was sworn in as Myanmar’s president on Wednesday (March 30), becoming the country's first civilian leader after decades of military rule since 1962 .
Mr Htin Kyaw, a 69-year-old close aide and long-time family friend handpicked by National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the role, was sworn in alongside two vice presidents – army nominee Myint Swe, a former general; and NLD nominee Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin and a Christian.
“I, Htin Kyaw, will be loyal to the union and the people of the union (and) will respect this constitution and the laws of the nation” the soft-spoken Mr Htin, wearing a collarless shirt in the NLD’s peach-coloured parliamentary colours, said in his oath at a ceremony at the country’s parliament in the capital Naypyidaw.
He takes over from outgoing president Thein Sein, the former general who steered the country through an occasionally turbulent five years of transition from a decades-long military dictatorship to quasi-civilian rule.
Looking on at the ceremony were Ms Suu Kyi and army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Ms Suu Kyi cannot be President herself because the junta-era constitution bars those with foreign family links from the post. Ms Suu Kyi was married to a Briton and her two sons are UK citizens.
The NLD government's new Cabinet led by Ms Suu Kyi was also sworn in.
The 70-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate is to take four portfolios including that of foreign affairs, in the new administration which takes office on Thursday (March 31) but technically assumes full powers from Friday.
Under the constitution the army appoints three Cabinet ministers - those of home, defence and border affairs.
In a short address soon after being sworn in, Mr Htin Kyaw said that among other things the party would want to amend the constitution to ‘’democratic standards’’ according to the ‘’wishes of the people.’’
“Our new government will implement national reconciliation, peace in the country, emergence of a constitution that will pave the way to a democratic union, and enhance the living standard of the people,” said Mr Htin.
“We have the duty to work for the emergence of a constitution that is appropriate for our country and also in accordance with democratic standards.”
The NLD won a sweeping victory in the November 2016 general election, and now controls a majority in both houses of parliament.
Many NLD lawmakers were emotional. “I couldn’t sleep last night. Our president U Htin Kyaw’s speech is something we have never heard before in the country,” NLD lawmaker Thiri Yadana, 28, said after the ceremony according to Reuters.
“He promised that he will work for the country with the respect to our leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It’s such a big step and this has happened because everybody pushed together forward.”
Tension had simmered in the run-up to the election and as the NLD prepared to take power. Suu Kyi wants to demilitarise Myanmar’s politics but effectively needs the support of the military to do so.
The army still controls 25 per cent of seats in parliament, enough to veto any attempt to amend the constitution to pave the way for Ms Suu Kyi to be president.