Htin Kyaw: who is Myanmar’s new president?

From childhood friend of Aung San Suu Kyi to election frontrunner, the ascent of the NLD loyalist confirmed as the country’s next leader

Until last month, few people in Myanmar had heard much about the man now confirmed as the next president.

Htin Kyaw, the 69-year-old childhood friend and senior aide of the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was last week formally nominated for the position by the National League for Democracy party after weeks of speculation.

On Tuesday this was confirmed by a vote in parliament.

“We know [about him] from journals,” said Ko Nyan, a 33-year-old driver, sitting at a restaurant in Naypyidaw, the capital, last week.

Within NLD circles Htin Kyaw is known as a party loyalist with strong personal ties to Aung San Suu Kyi. He went to school in Yangon alongside the politician, before winning a scholarship to study at university in the UK.

He is the son of Min Thu Wun, a respected author and poet. About a dozen of the parliamentarians elected in last year’s elections are also poets.

“U Htin Kyaw, just nominated by the NLD for president, is a stellar choice, well-respected, unimpeachable integrity, and a very nice man,” tweeted Thant Myint-U, a historian and the grandson of the former UN secretary general U Thant.

Thant Myint-U told the Guardian: “His father and my grandfather were best friends, born a few days apart in 1909 – that’s my connection. He’s from a family that’s been at the heart of Burma’s [long submerged] liberal tradition for nearly a century.”

A vendor displays T-shirts bearing the portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi with slogans ‘freedom to lead’, ‘our leader’, at the NLD party headquarters in Yangon.
A vendor displays T-shirts bearing the portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi with slogans ‘freedom to lead’ and ‘our leader’ at the NLD party headquarters in Yangon. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Htin Kyaw is also a senior executive at a charitable foundation named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother, a position that commands respect from NLD MPs, many of whom spent years as activists and dissidents before entering parliament.

“What I heard about him in the media is good,” said Win Htoo, an MP with the Ta’ang National party. Win Htoo, who spends time with civil society organisations, said he admired Htin Kyaw’s charitable work.

Myanmar’s electoral system requires that the president be voted in from a selection of names put forward by lawmakers, including at least one nominee chosen by the military, which retains a quarter of seats in parliament.

As the NLD secured a huge majority at the polls in November, it had the legislative power to pick a winner. The losing candidates – the army-backed candidate and retired general Myint Swe, and Henry Van Thio, an ethnic minority Chin MP who was the NLD’s second contender – become vice-presidents.

Myanmar’s constitution, written by the former ruling military junta, blocks Aung San Suu Kyi – often referred to as the Lady by her supporters – from assuming the presidency because her children are British. Talks to amend or suspend the clause ended without success.

She has said she intends to rule “above” the president. In a statement published on the NLD website early on Thursday, she asked supporters to support the party’s choices “gracefully”, adding: “This is an important step in implementing the desires and expectations of voters who enthusiastically supported the NLD.”

Htin Kyaw with Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence on the day of her release from house arrest in Yangon, where she was detained for nearly two decades.
Htin Kyaw with Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence on the day of her release from house arrest in Yangon, where she was detained for nearly two decades. Photograph: Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images

Sithu Aung Myint, a political analyst, said: “As she said she will lead the government, she needs to elect someone who can help. Aung San Suu Kyi cannot work if she chooses someone who cannot help her or do whatever she wants.”

For most ordinary NLD supporters, regardless of who is president, the country’s true leader is clear. “He can be a suitable person for the position but, whatever happens, it will be fine because the Lady will lead the government,” said Tin Hla, a restaurant manager.

Poppy McPherson and Aung Naing Soe in Naypyidaw

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