Naypyidaw / AFP
Aung San Suu Kyi was on Thursday finally ruled out of the running to become Myanmar’s next president, as her party nominated one of her most loyal aides to rule the formerly junta-run nation as her proxy.
Suu Kyi has vowed to rule “above” the president, despite being barred from top office by the army-scripted constitution, as she strives to fulfil the huge mandate delivered by millions of voters in her National League for Democracy’s landslide election victory in November.
Many in Myanmar had clung to faint hopes that the 70-year-old democracy campaigner could still be named president, but months of talks with the powerful military failed to remove the legal obstacles in her way.
At a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw Htin Kyaw, a genial 69-year-old economics graduate who now helps run Suu Kyi’s charitable foundation and once acted as her driver, was named as one of the party’s two presidential candidates, and is widely seen as the anointed person to rule in her place.His nomination was warmly received by observers and comes after months of fevered speculation.
Myanmar historian and political analyst Thant Myint-U said he was a “stellar choice” who had “unimpeachable integrity”.
“I think he’s probably the best fit for the job, someone of proven and longstanding loyalty to (Suu Kyi) and also a person of considerable standing in his own right,” he said.
Myanmar’s first civilian government in generations will face soaring expectations in the country of 51 million eager to see further changes as it shakes off the shackles of junta rule and international isolation.
“This is an important step in implementing the desires and expectations of voters who enthusiastically supported the NLD,” Suu Kyi said in a statement published on her party website early Thursday.
She is barred by a charter clause that disqualifies anyone with close foreign relatives. Her late husband and two sons are British.
Even Suu Kyi’s own MPs had been kept in the dark about the presidential deliberations, with the party fearful of upsetting a delicate political transition in a nation where the military still casts a long shadow.
The NLD also nominated ethnic Chin MP Henry Van Theu, a law graduate, as a presidential candidate from the upper house. He is expected to become vice president. Htin Kyaw’s official confirmation may take days.
Three candidates will be put to a vote of the combined housesâ€”one each from the upper house, lower house and from the military’s parliamentary bloc, which represents a quarter of the legislature.
A final vote of the combined houses, in which the NLD has a majority, will then determine which will become the president, leaving the other two as vice presidents.
Myanmar’s democracy movement runs through the family blood of Htin Kyaw, an affable former university teacher. His father was a legendary writer and early member of the NLD and he is married to sitting NLD MP Su Su Lwin, whose late father was the party’s respected spokesman.
Neither Htin Kyaw nor his wife attended the parliament on Thursday.
Online comments reacting to the announcement were generally positive. “We have waited a long time to see an educated president for Myanmar. And now he and Mother Suu will lead the country together,” said Thiri Khinsanar in a post on a local news website.
Suu Kyi has not outlined what her precise role will be or how she will be able to play puppet-master to a president. Some have suggested she could mimic India’s Sonia Gandhi, who wielded huge influence over her Congress party’s administrations despite having no official government role.
There has also been speculation that she could take the role of foreign minister, which would give her a cabinet post as well as a seat at the country’s influential military-dominated security council.
But under Myanmar’s complex political system, this would mean ceding her party role. The former ruling generals held Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years and swatted away the NLD’s 1990 election landslide.
Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian government took power in 2011, has ushered in a raft of political and economic reforms that saw most sanctions lifted.
His successor is faced with resuscitating long-neglected healthcare and education, improving decrepit infrastructure and tackling a graft saturated bureaucracy.
But the key challenge will be to maintain smooth relations with the army, which controls the key home, defence, and border ministries.
Suu Kyi has vowed to create a government of national reconciliation and the cabinet is expected to contain figures from across the political