Myanmar parliament elects Htin Kyaw as first civilian president in 53 years

In historic parliamentary vote, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party uses its majority to appoint her 69-year-old key aide as head of state

Myanmar’s parliament has elected Htin Kyaw as the country’s first non-military president since the army took power in a 1962 coup.

A close adviser and loyal friend to Aung San Suu Kyi, the 69-year-old was nominated by the National League for Democracy party last week and voted into the presidency by parliament on Tuesday.

Suu Kyi, who is barred from the presidency under an army-drafted constitution, has made clear she will be “above the president” and Htin Kyaw is expected to act as a proxy.

Reporters in the capital, Naypyidaw, were not allowed to enter the parliament chamber when the voting took place.

A final tally giving Htin Kyaw 360 out of 652 votes was met with applause. The two runners up, military nominee Myint Swe and ethnic minority Chin candidate Henry Van Thio, will become first and second vice-presidents respectively.

Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a member of parliament, cast her vote and later smiled broadly and clapped when the results were announced.

The parliament chamber was mostly a light orange, the colour of the NLD majority who wore Burmese longyi skirts and traditional hats. Also present were members of ethnic parties and military representatives.

Myanmar held elections in November, with the NLD winning a majority in both houses of parliament.

Suu Kyi’s majority allowed her to effectively handpick a successor to the current president, Thein Sein, a former general who implemented reforms in 2011 moving the country away from dictatorship.

Although Thein Sein retired from the army to take office, the 2010 elections that preceded his appointment were widely dismissed as fraudulent and his political party is a military creation.

#Myanmar presidential elections: vote count in Union Parliament on live TV. History unfolding in front our eyes

— Toily Kurbanov (@ToilyKurbanov) March 15, 2016

Htin Kyaw was elected under a complex system in which the two chambers of parliament nominated two presidential candidates and military MPs nominated a third, assuring the army continued influence.

The army also retains 25% of seats in parliament under a 2008 constitution that it drafted, giving it an effective veto on constitutional change. It also keeps key ministerial portfolios related to security.

Myint Swe, 64, the military’s nominee, is a hardline conservative blacklisted by the US. He is a close ally to former junta leader Than Shwe and has been criticised for dealing harshly with opposition activists under military rule.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing on Friday in Washington that he had no indication Myint Swe would be taken off the sanctions list.

“We have made our concerns known about this individual and this process, quite frankly, and we’ll monitor it going forward,” he told reporters.

Htin Kyaw, however, comes from the other side of Myanmar’s long history of oppression under military rule. He went to school in Yangon alongside Aung San Suu Kyi before winning a scholarship to study at university in the UK, and spent four months in jail in 2000 after trying to help the NLD leader travel outside Yangon.

Htin Kyaw is also a senior executive at a charitable foundation named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother. He is the son of Min Thu Wun, a respected author and poet.

Thant Myint-U, a historian and the grandson of the former UN secretary general U Thant, has said Htin Kyaw is “from a family that’s been at the heart of Burma’s [long submerged] liberal tradition for nearly a century”.

The constitution prevents the top job from going to anyone with foreign children. Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of 21 years under house arrest, has two British sons.

In a sign of the mandate that Suu Kyi commands in this parliament, the final count suggested that 54 independent and ethnic party members voted for the NLD candidate.

Myint Swe received 213 votes and Henry Van Thio took 79 votes.

NLD spokesman Win Htein said this month that Aung San Suu Kyi still planned to become the president – “it just depends on whether it is earlier or later”.


Oliver Holmes in Bangkok

The GuardianTramp

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