Suu Kyi aide becomes new President

(Clockwise) Gen. Ne Win, who led a military coup in Burma in 1962 and initiated half-a-century of military rule; Win Maung and U Nu, the President and the Prime Minister respectively deposed in the coup. —FILE PHOTOS: AP, Wikimedia  

: Myanmar got its first civilian President in decades on Tuesday after lawmakers elected a close aide of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is expected to hold the real reins of power in the formerly junta-run nation.

Htin Kyaw (69) hailed his elevation to the top post as “Suu Kyi’s victory”, a clear nod to her plan that he serve as a proxy for the Nobel laureate who is constitutionally barred from becoming President.

MPs erupted into applause after the result was announced following a lengthy ballot count by hand in the capital Naypyidaw, in which Mr. Htin Kyaw took 360 of 652 votes cast.

Myanmar is undergoing a dramatic transformation from an isolated and repressed state to a rapidly opening aspiring democracy.

Election victory

Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a thumping victory at elections in November, allowing her party to dominate Myanmar’s two legislative houses.

But the military remains a powerful force and has refused to change a clause in the junta-era Constitution which bars her from the presidency. The veteran activist has instead vowed to rule “above” the next leader. Her choice of Mr. Htin Kyaw is seen as a testament to her absolute faith in his loyalty.

“This is sister Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory,” the newly elected President told reporters after the vote. “Thank you.” Mr. Htin Kyaw will be sworn in on March 30, replacing incumbent Thein Sein. It will be the first time Myanmar has had a civilian President since 1962, when the military seized power.

Mr. Thein Sein, a former General, led a quasi-civilian reformist government for the last five years that has been praised for moving the nation out of the shadow of outright military rule.

For many MPs from Ms. Suu Kyi’s party, Tuesday’s vote was a vindication of their long years of struggle for democracy under the repressive former junta, which locked up hundreds of dissidents as it tried to stifle criticism.

The NLD is still haunted by its 1990 election victory, which was snatched away by the generals.

Struggle for democracy

Zin Mar Aung, an NLD MP who was involved in 1988 protests and is herself a former political prisoner, termed the vote “very historic”.

She said the election of Mr. Htin Kyaw, who was also detained by the former junta, made her think of their long struggle and “the way we have marched to here since more than 20 years ago”.

But others expressed disappointment that their leader would not be taking the top post. “We all want to see Aung San Suu Kyi become the President,” NLD MP Myo Zaw Aung told AFP. “But so far, it is not reality.”

Ms. Suu Kyi (70), enjoys unrivalled popularity both as the daughter of the country’s independence hero and as a central figure in the decades-long democracy struggle.

It is not yet clear what role she plans to take or how she will manage her relationship with the new President. — AFP