Myanmar Picks a New President, but He’ll Still Be No. 2
MANDALAY, Myanmar — A longtime loyalist to Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was chosen on Wednesday to be the country’s new president, a largely ceremonial role in which he is expected to be the official conduit for her authority.
The new president, U Win Myint, will succeed U Htin Kyaw, 71, who resigned last week after two years on the job. Mr. Htin Kyaw was widely regarded as an honest but powerless functionary who did the bidding of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who has been condemned globally for her acquiescence to the military’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
Mr. Win Myint, a 66-year-old lawyer, is expected to perform in a similar fashion. As president, he will be constrained by both the military-drafted Constitution and the strong hand of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
Parliament chose him from a field of three candidates during a two-hour session in which his character and qualifications for the job were not mentioned.
Also not discussed were his stands on such pressing issues as the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Rakhine State, a growing crackdown on freedom of speech, a struggling economy and continued fighting between the military and several ethnic groups.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, made a rare appearance in Parliament to observe the vote, joined by Mr. Win Myint.
After the vote, reporters asked him to comment on his election but he merely smiled and waved before leaving.
Mr. Win Myint stepped down last week as the speaker of Parliament’s lower house in anticipation of his new position. He is scheduled to be sworn in as president on Friday.
The former president, Mr. Htin Kyaw, who has been in poor health, did not explain his reason for resigning. But his wife, Daw Su Su Lwin, who is also a member of Parliament, told reporters last week that it was not for health reasons and suggested he was not happy in his role.
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“He thinks he should resign, that’s why he resigned,” she said. “This is all his decision. He never intended to be president. He hoped that he would have to take the position of president for only three to six months.”
As with so much about Myanmar, the political maneuvering is shaped by the military-drafted Constitution.
Among other things, it prohibits Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from serving as president because her children are foreign citizens. After her party’s landslide victory in 2015, she sought to get around the ban by naming herself state counselor, a post not included in the Constitution, and declaring herself to be “above the president.”
The Constitution also creates a divided government in which the army commander in chief appoints a quarter of Parliament’s members and three powerful cabinet members and reports to no civilian authority.
Mr. Win Myint has more political experience than his predecessor and is considered more of an activist. But analysts said that he was unlikely to make a difference as long as Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi maintains her grip on the civilian side of government.
“Switching between U Htin Kyaw and U Win Myint will make no significant change for Myanmar’s democracy,” said U Yan Myo Thein, an independent political analyst based in Yangon. “There is just a personality difference.”
David Mathieson, an independent analyst in Yangon, said Mr. Win Myint was a “true believer” in the party and would continue in the role Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had established for the president as her “human pen.”
“He will do what his leader instructs him to, and nothing more,” Mr. Mathieson said. “He is there to make the arrangement constitutional, and to maintain that balance of power between the civilian and military governments.”
Follow Richard C. Paddock on Twitter: @RCPaddock.
Saw Nang reported from Mandalay, and Richard C. Paddock from Jakarta, Indonesia.