Myanmar president resigns, new leader likely to be Aung San Suu Kyi loyalist

Myanmar's president Htin Kyaw (right) and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the opening ceremony of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on May 24, 2017. PHOTO: AFP
U Win Myint, Speaker of Lower House of Parliament, leaves after attending a parliament meeting at Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on March 11, 2016. REUTERS

BANGKOK - Myanmar is set to have a new president after incumbent Htin Kyaw resigned on Wednesday (March 21).

He is likely to be succeeded by Lower House speaker Win Myint, a secretary of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, who resigned on the same day.

According to a presidential office statement, Mr Htin Kyaw, 71, resigned "in order to take rest from the current duties and responsibilities".

NLD legislator Khin Maung Myint, who is from Kachin state, said Mr Htin Kyaw has colon cancer.

Rumours about the state of his health had been circulating for some months. He had undergone an operation recently and reportedly also received medical treatment in Bangkok and Singapore.

The frail-looking leader, who was seen eating rice soup at a state dinner, was advised by senior NLD leaders to avoid regular state functions, according to an Irrawaddy journal report in January this year.

His resignation is unlikely to change the balance of power in Myanmar. "The position of the presidency is very ceremonial," political analyst Yan Myo Thein told The Straits Times.

Myanmar's military-crafted Constitution reserves a quarter of all seats for the military and bars NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi from presidency.

After the NLD won a sweeping victory in the 2015 election, the NLD-dominated parliament picked Mr Htin Kyaw, a close confidante of Ms Suu Kyi, for presidency. It also approved a powerful position of state counsellor for Ms Suu Kyi, which made her de facto leader of the country.

Mr Htin Kyaw, in his capacity as president, requested for a new ministry to be created to support her duties as state counsellor.

A new president will now have to be chosen by the Parliament within seven working days. Until then, the more senior of Myanmar's two vice-presidents, Mr Myint Swe - a former military officer - will stand in as president. The other vice-president is Mr Henry Van Thio.

NLD appears to have prepared for this change in leadership. On Wednesday, Mr Win Myint, the speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw or lower house, resigned from his post in what is seen as a preparation for his nomination as president.

The 66-year-old politician is a central executive committee member of the NLD and one of Ms Suu Kyi's most trusted members. He studied geology in university but later became a High Court lawyer. He won a seat in the 1990 election - which was later voided by the military.

After Mr Win Myint resigned, he held a meeting with NLD parliamentarians in the capital Napyitaw on Wednesday afternoon .

Mr Khin Maung Myint, one of those who attended the meeting, told The Straits Times: "We were not told directly that he is becoming president, but almost."

He added: "It's good if U Win Myint can become president. Then he can control all the chief ministers and directly face the governing challenges."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.