Myanmar to Elect New President This Week

By The Irrawaddy 26 March 2018

YANGON — After the sudden resignation of President U Htin Kyaw last week, Myanmar will elect a new head of state on Wednesday, the country’s Union Parliament announced on Monday.

Constitutionally, Myanmar needs to have three vice presidents elected by the Lower House, the Upper House, and appointed military lawmakers from both chambers.

On Friday, Myanmar’s Lower House elected its former speaker, U Win Myint of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), as vice president. The other two vice presidents are U Myint Swe, who is now the acting president of the country, and U Henry Van Thio.

Parliament will vote for a new president on Wednesday morning from among the three vice presidents.

U Win Myint submitted his resignation as speaker of the Lower House soon after U Htin Kyaw’s resignation was announced on Wednesday, prompting speculation that he would become Myanmar’s next president.

If the speculation proves true, U Win Myint, a senior NLD member, will be Myanmar’s 10th president since the country’s independence in 1948.

The 67-year-old is believed to be one of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s favorites among fellow senior NLD members. He became the Lower House speaker in February 2016, after the NLD won the 2015 general election.

During his time in the Lower House, the former lawyer was known for his strict discipline. He did not tolerate discussions that were off topic during parliamentary meetings. Even union ministers were not free from his stern warnings, not to mention lawmakers, including those from the military.

A Planned Presidential Reshuffle

Despite U Htin Kyaw’s resignation coming as a surprise to outsiders, Myanmar’s ruling NLD party said the change had already been discussed among senior level officials of the party and the government.

U Win Htein, one of the party’s secretariat members and aide to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, told the media on Saturday after the NLD CEC meeting that U Win Myint would be chosen as the president.

“U Htin Kyaw is not in good health. He wanted to leave for his health,” he said.

In his resignation announcement, U Htin Kyaw simply stated that he wanted to retire from his duties.

U Htin Kyaw cuddles a Burmese cat during his visit to Inle Heritage House at Inle Lake on Oct. 8, 2016, during his presidency. (Photo: Inle Heritage)

The former president was the first head of state elected by Parliament after the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD government came to power in 2016 after a landslide victory in the previous year’s general election. He is a close confidant of de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In his critics’ eyes, the soft-spoken elderly man was merely a “puppet president.” While he was formally the head of state and constitutionally the highest authority in the land, the amount of actual power he wielded was questionable. “The Lady,” as State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is known, had already made it known during the election campaign that she would be “above the president,” as the Constitution bans her from holding the office.

Since last year, the public knew of the 71-year-old president’s ill health due to his frail appearance and absence from some state functions. He also received medical treatments overseas.

Never a Dream Job

Daw Su Su Lwin, the former first lady, told the media on Friday that her husband’s resignation was not solely for health reasons but that it had been planned in advance.

“He had never thought he would be the president,” she said.

“When he was assigned to the post, he expected to spend three to six months at most in the position for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” she added, meaning that he thought that the Constitution that barred the state counselor from the presidency could be fixed in that time.

Contrary to what he expected, the charter amendment—one of the NLD government priorities—has so far gotten nowhere in his two years in office.

Daw Su Su Lwin hopes the possible incoming president U Win Myint, who is four years younger than U Htin Kyaw, will be more successful given his younger age and experience.

“I urge all of you to welcome and delight for U Win Myint’s presidency as you did for U Htin Kyaw.”