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Myanmar’s Next President Propelled from Obscurity


Htin Kyaw, center, newly elected president of Myanmar, walks with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, at Myanmar's parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Htin Kyaw, center, newly elected president of Myanmar, walks with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, at Myanmar's parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Myanmar’s parliament has voted to elect Htin Kyaw as the country’s next president.

The retired bureaucrat from the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 360 out of the 652 votes cast in a joint meeting of the legislature, known as the Union Parliament.

“I’m so happy for him, for our party, our people and our country,” exclaimed novice NLD lawmaker Hnin Htet, the daughter of a former political prisoner, after the historic vote.

Read a brief biography of Htin Kyaw here

Htin Kyaw is not a member of parliament, but he is a close confidant of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was among the first to vote in Tuesday’s historic election.

Military members of parliament arrive at the Union Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 15, 2016.

Military members of parliament arrive at the Union Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 15, 2016.

Aung San Suu Kyi made no comment to reporters on her way in or out of the chamber.

The Nobel Laureate is the obvious favorite of most citizens of Myanmar, also known as Burma. But she is constitutionally barred from becoming president because both of her sons have foreign citizenship.

“We remain concerned about certain provisions in Burma’s constitution that contradict fundamental democratic principles and prevent the people of Burma from voting for the leaders of their choice,” said a U.S. State Department official. “The people of Burma should be able to decide whether and when to amend the country’s constitution to alter or remove these provisions."

Ultimate power

Aung San Suu Kyi has declared she will retain ultimate power over her handpicked president, whom she has known since primary school.

The military will remain powerful in the new government because it automatically holds one-quarter of the parliamentary seats and will control several key ministries.

Officials tried to prevent reporters from interviewing or videotaping the military’s members of parliament as they registered for the joint session in the lobby of the Pyithu Hluttaw, or lower house.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi casts ballot for president. She was followed by 651 other lawmakers, March 15, 2016. (S. Herman/VOA)

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi casts ballot for president. She was followed by 651 other lawmakers, March 15, 2016. (S. Herman/VOA)

“When the NLD forms a government we will need to work together with them,” an army brigadier general, who declined to give his name, told VOA.

The army’s candidate for president, General Myint Swe, who is the Yangon regional chief minister, placed second in the three-man race and will become the first vice president.

On blacklist

The retired lieutenant general remains on a U.S. government blacklist and Americans are barred with doing business with him.

Some in the NLD and analysts have expressed concern that the enduring influence of the generals will mean Myanmar will continue to be dogged by cronyism and corruption. But after Tuesday’s vote, lawmakers from both the NLD and the now opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) stressed the need to work together.

“We have been learning the true meaning of endurance and hard work. So I can be patient. And the very fundamental thinking that we have to keep in our mind is national reconciliation,” said NLD lawmaker Pyone Kathy Naing.

“We will work together (with the NLD). Both parties are working for the best of our country,” USDP lawmaker Hla Htay Win told VOA.

Ethnic Palaung lawmaker speaking to reporters after historic presidential vote in Myanmar's parliament, March 15, 2016. (S. Herman/VOA)

Ethnic Palaung lawmaker speaking to reporters after historic presidential vote in Myanmar's parliament, March 15, 2016. (S. Herman/VOA)

The NLD’s Henry Van Thio, a Christian from Chin state, finished third in Tuesday’s voting and will become second vice president.

Myanmar is a Buddhist-dominated country of more than 55 million people that has seen nearly constant civil war since the end of British colonial rule in 1948.

Since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011 there has been progress in brokering peace deals with various factions. But low-intensity conflicts continue between the Myanmar army and a number of armed ethnic minority groups.

The new government will take office on April 1.

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