Suu Kyi Ally Seen as Favorite to Become Next Myanmar Leader

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon

Aung San Suu Kyi.

Photographer: /Getty Images
  • Suu Kyi constitutionally barred from becoming next leader
  • Party taps director of Suu Kyi's charitable foundation

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party avoided a potential showdown with the military by opting against nominating her to become Myanmar’s next president. Instead, one of her close allies and a member of the Chin ethnic group were put forward for the post.

QuickTake Myanmar’s Transition

The next president will on paper become the head of Myanmar’s first government to come from democratic elections since a military takeover in 1962. In reality, they will probably defer to Suu Kyi, who has said she would be "above the president" and run the government despite a constitutional ban on her holding the nation’s highest office.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party’s scored a resounding win in November’s election and dominates both houses of parliament, giving it the upper hand in nominating presidential candidates. She had met army chief Min Aung Hlaing several times to discuss the power transfer, though did not secure a deal that would allow her to become president.

The lower house of parliament nominated NLD member Htin Kyaw and the upper house chose NLD member Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin lawmaker. Military appointees had yet to announce their choice, and it was unclear when they would do so. The combined houses will hold a vote in the coming days with the winner becoming president and the other two serving as vice presidents.

Aung San Suu Kyi with Htin Kyaw at her house in 2010
Aung San Suu Kyi with Htin Kyaw at her house in 2010
Photographer: Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images

Suu Kyi Ties

Htin Kyaw, 69, is seen as the favorite due to his ties to Suu Kyi. In addition to being a senior party member, he is a director at the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charitable organization named after Suu Kyi’s mother. He went to the same secondary school as Suu Kyi and graduated from the Yangon Institute of Economics in 1962. He later studied at the University of London, according to Kyi Toe, a party spokesman.

He is the son of renowned Myanmar writer Min Thu Wun, who was an early member of the NLD. He is married to Suu Suu Lwin, an NLD lawmaker who is the daughter of U Lwin, a former finance minister who helped form the NLD.

‘Zero Ego’

"Htin Kyaw is a man of the highest integrity, courage and wisdom," said Sean Turnell, an associate economics professor at Macquarie University in Sydney who has advised the NLD. He "has zero ego and a great love for his country. Extremely cosmopolitan, speaks perfect English -- a man of great learning who could hold his own in any company, anywhere."

The other NLD pick, Henry Van Thio, is a member of the Chin ethnic group and a Christian. The 58-year-old attended both Yangon and Mandalay universities and holds a degree in law. His pick was hailed by those from his region.

"It is obvious that NLD is working for national reconciliation," said Pu Kham Khan Thang, a lawmaker from the Zomi Congress for Democracy party. "They are making things fair for all ethnic groups."

Myanmar Begins Search for a New Leader

Suu Kyi, 70, and her party are longtime opponents of the generals who ruled the country until 2011, when they handed power to their political arm. Many senior NLD leaders, including Suu Kyi, were imprisoned under the junta and have tread cautiously since they beat the military-backed party by a nearly 10-1 margin in November.

The last time the NLD won a national election, in 1990, the result was ignored by the military. This time it’s clear the NLD will be allowed to lead the government, in part because the army will retain broad powers under a constitution it drafted. In addition to barring Suu Kyi from the presidency, the army is guaranteed 25 percent of seats in parliament, effective veto power over charter changes and control of key ministries.

‘We Will Try’

"This is the first step to realizing the expectations and desires of the people who overwhelmingly supported the National League for Democracy in the elections," Suu Kyi said Thursday in a post on Facebook. "We previously couldn’t fulfill the people’s will. We want all the people to support us with wisdom to achieve our goals. To fulfill the people’s desire is the NLD’s determination and we will try as much as we can."

The NLD had refused to say who would be president until Thursday. The party has also been vague about its plans once the handover from President Thein Sein’s government is completed on April 1. While its election manifesto covered everything from the economy to education to ethnic relations, the document included few concrete details.

(A previous version of this story corrected the university Htin Kyaw attended in the fifth paragraph.)

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