Htin Kyaw: Burma’s President-Elect and Talk of the Town

By Kyaw Phyo Tha & Tin Htet Paing 16 March 2016

RANGOON — National League for Democracy (NLD) nominee Htin Kyaw’s election on Tuesday as Burma’s next president has received roaring applause from local and international figures.

Htin Kyaw, an executive committee member of an Aung San Suu Kyi-led foundation, secured 360 out of a total 652 votes from parliamentarians, effectively ending decades of leadership by a brutal military junta and its quasi-civilian successor government.

Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the NLD, met with her party’s lawmakers in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday to ensure that the voting would be carried out validly.

“This is just a simple goal. But we have been struggling a lot for it,” she told lawmakers.

Her sense of achieving a long-delayed victory was shared by many others.

Historian and founder of the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) Thant Myint-U sees a Htin Kyaw presidency as “an important step forward for democracy” in Burma, and he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that he believed Htin Kyaw would be a capable president.

“What’s important about this moment is that it’s when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi begins, however indirectly, to assume executive power,” he said.

“It’s something many have been waiting for since August 1988. Whatever comes next will be a new chapter in the country’s history.”

Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency, and Htin Kyaw is understood to be a proxy for her leadership. A confidante of the NLD chairwoman who first met her in primary school, Htin Kyaw had been tipped for the post ahead of his big reveal on March 10, but was hardly a household name in Burmese politics before that. His new stature will be noted by Burmese speakers for its poetic resonance, then, since Htin Kyaw in Burmese essentially translates as “famous.”

Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, said the selection was a positive development for the country and something to be proud of, also praising the fact that Htin Kyaw is Burma’s first elected civilian president in 54 years.

“It’s a milestone on our country’s path to democracy,” he said.

Rangoon-based political analysis Yan Myo Thein echoed Aung Moe Zaw’s optimism.

“I believe that an administrative body will be implemented, under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership, that will be able to work effectively for the country and its people,” he said.

The United States, which has helped to buoy Burma’s transition to a civilian government since the former pariah state signaled reformist inclinations in 2011, said Htin Kyaw’s election was “yet another important step forward in Burma’s democratic transition.”

Former Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann released a statement on social media, encouraging Burma’s newly elected president to stand with the people.

“The incoming government and executive body must fulfill their obligation to the people,” the statement reads.

“At the same time, people must also contribute to the government’s defense, security and nation-building process with [their own] visions.”

Outgoing President Thein Sein congratulated his successor.

In a message sent to Htin Kyaw, Thein Sein said that, on behalf of the state and the people, he was proud of Htin Kyaw and that he was “prepared to hand over the duties of the head of state.”

UK Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick commended the people of Burma on the election of their first civilian president in over five decades.

“We look forward to working with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Htin Kyaw and the new cabinet when the new government takes office,” he told The Irrawaddy via email on Tuesday.

There was a lot of support to be found on social media, too, particularly on Twitter. Patrick’s boss, British Prime Minister David Cameron, was among them.

“Congratulations to the people of Burma on their 1st democratically elected President in 50+ yrs. [I] Look forward to working with U Htin Kyaw,” he tweeted.

Likewise, a tweet from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi read, “Congratulations and best wishes to U Htin Kyaw on being elected President of Myanmar! Will work together to strengthen India-Myanmar ties.”

In Tuesday’s voting, military nominee Myint Swe won 213 votes, while ethnic Chin lawmaker Henry Van Thio secured 79 votes, making them vice president Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.