Suu Kyi's ally on track to be Myanmar's president

Htin Kyaw sails through first round of parliamentary vote, beating army-backed candidate

Mr Htin Kyaw is poised to lead Myanmar as a proxy for Ms Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from being president.
Mr Htin Kyaw is poised to lead Myanmar as a proxy for Ms Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from being president.

Mr Htin Kyaw, a respected writer and intellectual who is trusted by Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, sailed through the first round of a parliamentary vote yesterday, remaining on course to become the country's first civilian president in decades.

Mr Htin Kyaw, 69, received 274 votes from 330 civilian lawmakers in the Lower House.

The candidate put forward by army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Dr Sai Mauk Kham, received just 29 votes.

Meanwhile, in the Upper House, ethnic Chin MP Henry Van Thio, nominated by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) for one of two vice-presidential slots, was also endorsed, leaving the USDP nominee a distant second.

Mr Htin Kyaw, whose friendship with Ms Suu Kyi goes back to their parents' generation, is all but certain to be Myanmar's next president, as a proxy for Ms Suu Kyi.

She cannot become president because the military-era Constitution bars those with foreign family links from the office. Her two sons are British citizens.

Another round of voting is needed in the Lower and Upper Houses dominated by Ms Suu Kyi's party before Mr Htin Kyaw can be officially named president.

State-owned Global New Light of Myanmar wrote yesterday that Mr Htin Kyaw was "favoured to ascend to the presidency absent any irregularities in the process".

But the generally positive public mood that the NLD will come to power in two weeks was somewhat tempered late yesterday by an army announcement through its radio station that its candidate for vice-president was an old-school hardliner, outgoing Yangon chief minister and former general Myint Swe. Analysts say the 65-year old has a "chequered" record.

Graduating from Myanmar's Defence Services Academy in 1971, he went on to serve under former military dictator Senior General Than Shwe, who now lives in low-profile retirement in Naypyitaw but still wields enormous influence behind the scenes.

Analysts consider Mr Myint Swe close to the Senior General.

Mr Myint Swe was head of the critical Yangon area military command for years.

He was involved in a number of high-profile incidents, including the arrest of former intelligence czar General Khin Nyunt in 2004, and a purge of the former strongman General Ne Win's family in 2002.

Earlier this week, online journal The Irrawaddy warned that his "baggage includes corruption ties and links to a violent 2007 crackdown in (Yangon) on peaceful protesters led by Buddhist monks".

Mr Myint Swe lost out on a vice-presidential position in 2012 on account of his son being an Australian citizen, running foul of the same clause that bars Ms Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Since then, reports say, his son has taken Myanmar citizenship, thus removing that obstacle.

After he was appointed chief minister of Yangon in 2011, allegations began to fly.

In one instance, he came under fire over a project awarded to a company to which he allegedly had close ties.

The project was suspended following an outcry in the Yangon region assembly. But analysts also said his role and scope as vice-president in the incoming administration may be limited.

In a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament next week, possibly on Tuesday, MPs will vote on the three candidates - Mr Htin Kyaw, Mr Henry Van Thio and Mr Myint Swe. Whoever gets the most votes will become president, and the remaining two will take vice-presidential seats.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline Suu Kyi's ally on track to be Myanmar's president. Subscribe