Myanmar swears in first civilian President in five decades

Htin Kyaw promises to change the charter which bars Suu Kyi from presidency

March 30, 2016 09:37 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST - Yangon

Myanmar has sworn in Htin Kyaw, a close aide of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as the country’s first civilian President in more than 50 years.

The 69-year-old leader, in a brief address to a joint session of Parliament after the swearing-in ceremony, suggested that the military-drafted Constitution, which barred Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming the President, be changed. “We have a duty to work for the emergence of a Constitution that is appropriate for our country and also in accordance with democratic standards,” he said.

“Our new government,” he promised, “will implement national reconciliation.” The President also gave an undertaking that the government will “enhance the living standard of the people”.

Ms. Suu Kyi has been appointed as a minister in Mr. Htin Kyaw’s government.

“This is just the beginning of a road,” she said in a recent interview, referring to the country’s democratic transition.

Until recently, Mr. Htin Kyaw was running a charity founded by Ms. Suu Kyi. His wife, daughter of one of the founders of the National League for Democracy, is an MP.

Reacting to the momentous development, the Indian Ambassador in Myanmar, Gautam Mukhopadhaya, remarked: “With the reforms, peace process, free elections and the new government, we can hope to see greater business interest in India free from residual baggage of the past and a fuller development of relations across the board as democracies under a popularly elected leader and government.”

Even in her moment of conquest, though, she is compelled to walk a tightrope in respect of her ties with the armed forces, if she is to persuade them permanently back to the barracks. Apart from controlling the ministries of home, defence and borders affairs, the men in uniform occupy 25 per cent of seats in Parliament. Under the existing Constitution, an 80 per cent majority is required to amend any part of it.

However, while On paper she will be Minister for Foreign Affairs, the President’s Office, Education and Energy, in practice, the buck will stop with her on all non-security matters in the new administration.

In effect, the NLD, which won a three-fourths majority in Parliament, will cohabit with the military, which has directly or indirectly ruled India’s north- eastern neighbour since 1962.

Despite being the NLD’s undisputed leader, she was prevented from becoming the head of government. A law enacted by the armed forces debars her from holding this position as her two sons are British nationals.

Neither was present to witness their mother’s triumph. A source at the British Embassy said that as far as he knew neither was in Myanmar.

Htin Kyaw, a London-educated economist, was dressed in a dark, check longyi and a fawn coloured, collarless jacket — which in Myanmar traditionally reflects an anti-colonial and nationalist sentiment — and a pinkish gaung baung or silk head wrap. Two Vice-Presidents — one from the armed forces — took the oath with him, administered by Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than.

(Ashis Ray is a London-based journalist currently in Myanmar)

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