NAYPYITAW, MYANMAR - Longtime Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday apologized to her supporters for not becoming the country’s next president, who is likely instead to be one of her closest confidantes, an unelected retired bureaucrat.
In her letter posted to social media shortly before Myanmar’s parliament began the process of selecting the new chief executive, the Nobel Laureate apologized for “not fully fulfilling the people’s desire.”
She added that she would persevere and asked for people’s continued support “to reach the goal peacefully.” That was interpreted as a plea for patience and a vow that she will eventually become president.
But on Thursday it projected a bittersweet tinge on the proceedings as most of the lawmakers, clad in the orange vests of her National League for Democracy party (NLD), filed into the two chambers of the national legislature.
The NLD won an overwhelming number of seats in parliament during November’s general election. But a clause in the military-written constitution prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from assuming the nation’s top job because her sons have foreign citizenship.
"I'm very sad. She is the right president. But hopefully one day she will become president," said Nay Myo Htet, hip hop singer turned NLD lawmaker, immediately after reading the party leader's letter shown to him by VOA News in the lobby of the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house of parliament).
After her letter was released, the lower house of parliament, controlled by the NLD, chose party member Htin Kyaw as its nominee for vice president. Htin Kyaw is a confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The upper house, also controlled by the NLD, selected Henry Van Hti Yu from Chin state as a nominee for vice president.
Htin Kyaw will be a good choice for president even though he is not well known, said novice NLD lawmaker Zin Mar Aung. She noted that the nominee spent part of his career as a bureaucrat in two ministries.
“He is well experienced in how to run a bureaucratic mechanism. That’s perfect,” she told VOA.
The unelected lawmakers from the military, for which one-fourth of the legislative seats are reserved, met outside of parliament to select their nominee for vice president.
A total of five vice presidential candidates will be chosen before a vetting period, which will reduce the number of nominees to three.
The entire parliament is expected to vote on March 18 to decide which of three finalists becomes the nation’s next president. The other two will become vice presidents.
Party sources have told VOA that NLD lawmakers will be instructed to vote for Htin Kyaw as president, a move that would ensure he will be selected.
After the general election last year, the first since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011 after decades of military dictatorship, Aung San Suu Kyi had said she would run the government, saying she would be “above the president.”
That almost ensures Htin Kyaw will be labeled a puppet president, a characterization some NLD lawmakers deem unavoidable due to the constitutional restraints preventing the overwhelming public favorite from becoming the official leader.
“In that kind of situation this scenario is the best one to move forward,” declared lawmaker Zin Mar Aung.
Closed-door talks in recent weeks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military had led to speculation that the two sides might reach a deal to suspend the constitutional clause that bars her from the presidency. That appears now not to be the case.
But there is now speculation Aung San Suu Kyi could request that she be nominated to be foreign minister.
The new government will take office on April 1.