Suu Kyi loyalist likely to be Myanmar president

Mr Htin Kyaw, Myanmar's incumbent president, resigned yesterday amid rumours about his health. He had undergone an operation recently.
Mr Htin Kyaw, Myanmar's incumbent president, resigned yesterday amid rumours about his health. He had undergone an operation recently.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ruling NLD secretary Win Myint tipped for post after incumbent Htin Kyaw resigns

Myanmar is set to have a new president after incumbent Htin Kyaw resigned yesterday.

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 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.

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 the presidency.

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

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

A new president will now have to be chosen by 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 the change in leadership. Yesterday, Mr Win Myint resigned from his post as Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw or Lower House - in what is seen as 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.

Mr Win Myint won a seat in the 1990 elections, which were later voided by the military. He resumed his political career in the 2012 by-elections, winning a Lower House seat in Pathein constituency.

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

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 is good if U Win Myint can become president. Then he can control all the chief ministers and directly face the governing challenges."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Suu Kyi loyalist likely to be Myanmar president'. Print Edition | Subscribe