NLD chooses Suu Kyi’s ‘driver’ as president

Aung San Suu Kyi memorabilia at the NLD’s Yangon headquarters. Suu Kyi, 70, will not be the next president but the constitution might be changed to allow her to take the job in the future. Photo: Asean Economist

Aung San Suu Kyi has been ruled out of the running to become Myanmar’s next president, as her party nominated one of her most loyal aides to rule as her proxy.

Htin Kyaw, 69, who helps run Suu Kyi’s charitable foundation, was named as one of her National League for Democracy’s two presidential candidates.

Representing the Lower House, he is widely seen as the replacement for President Thein Sein when he steps down in late March.

The NLD also nominated Chin State MP Henry Van Theu as its other presidential candidate from the Upper House. He is expected to become vice president along with a third, military-appointed vice president.

Suu Kyi has said she would rule “above” the president, despite being barred from the becoming head of state by the military-drafted constitution, although she has the power to select the president because her NLD has a crushing parliamentary majority.

Recent talks to persuade the military to allow her to become president failed.

Suu Kyi spoke to MPs in Naypyidaw at a closed meeting.

Observers welcomed the choice. “I think he’s probably the best fit for the job, someone of proven and long standing loyalty to [Suu Kyi] and also a person of considerable standing in his own right,” Myanmar political analyst Thant Myint-U said.

Htin Kyaw’s official confirmation should take about a week with both houses confirming their candidates today (Friday).

One of the three candidates will be named president while the other two will remain as vice presidents.

Htin Kyaw is regarded as a party loyalist. He went to school in Yangon alongside Suu Kyi before winning a scholarship to study at a British university.

“U Htin Kyaw, just nominated by the NLD for president, is a stellar choice, well-respected, unimpeachable integrity and a very nice man,” tweeted Thant Myint-U, historian and grandson of the former UN secretary general U Thant.

Thant Myint-U said: “His father and my grandfather were best friends, born a few days apart in 1909 – that’s my connection. He’s from a family that’s been at the heart of Burma’s liberal tradition for nearly a century.”

Htin Kyaw is a senior executive at a charitable foundation named after Suu Kyi’s mother.

Even MPs from the army-backed United Solidarity and Development Party appeared to accept Htin Kyaw.

“He is a suitable person,” USDP Lower House MP Hla Htay Win was quoted saying.

The affable Htin Kyaw stood at Suu Kyi’s side when she was released from house arrest in 2010 and was once her driver.

His father was an acclaimed writer and poet and he is married to NLD MP Su Su Lwin, whose late father was the party’s spokesman.

Observers have suggested that Suu Kyi could mimic India’s Sonia Gandhi, who wielded considerable influence over her Congress party despite having no official government role. Suu Kyi is a Lower House MP.

There has also been speculation that she could become foreign minister, giving her a cabinet post and a seat on the military-dominated Security Council, which retains considerable powers, although that would force her to step down from her NLD role.