YANGON— After a 30-year journey that has taken him from a legal career to being a political activist, then elected lawmaker and most recently House speaker — U Win Myint has reached a big turning point in his life that now sees him poised to be named the country’s next president.
The 66-year-old has served as the Lower House speaker since February 2016, after the National League for Democracy won the 2015 general election.
As part of the process to select a replacement for U Htin Kyaw, 71, who resigned as president on Mar. 21, U Win Myint was elected as a vice president last Friday, paving the way for a vote for a new president. U Win Myint resigned as Lower House speaker on the same day that U Htin Kyaw announced his retirement.
A long-time NLD member, U Win Myint is considered to be a right-hand man of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was barred from taking the presidency under the military-drafted 2008 constitution.
Born in Danubyu in the Irrawaddy Delta in 1951, U Win Myint studied geology at Yangon University before turning to study law in the 1980s. He was working as a barrister in 1988 when nationwide pro-democracy protests erupted, leading to the founding of the NLD, which he subsequently joined.
U Win Myint has enjoyed electoral success three times: in the 1990 general election, a 2012 by-election and in the last general election in 2015.
But the successes didn’t come easily. Like many other political activists and politicians, U Win Myint was arrested several times by the previous military regime.
Detained at the time that his only son fell critically ill, he spurned a military intelligence’s offer that he sign a promissory note to renounce politics in exchange for the chance to visit his son, who was on his deathbed in hospital. He subsequently missed his son’s funeral as well.
“I couldn’t accept it as my constituents believed in me and voted for me,” he said in a video interview with local media outlet Kamayut soon after he was elected Lower House speaker.
But the loss hurt him with his late son never being able to see his father rise to become house speaker.
“I don’t hold grudges against any organization for that. But in my heart, I want my son to be beside me,” he said.
Regardless. the then house speaker said he would continue to pursue a path to national reconciliation as laid out by his party’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
U Win Myint became an NLD central executive committee member in 2010. He also served as secretary of the Lower House’s Rule of Law, Peace and Tranquility Committee chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was a Lower House lawmaker at the time, after being elected to represent Yangon’s Kawhmu township.
With his long experience in legal affairs and politics, U Win Myint’s possible presidency has raised hopes and expectations that he will be a more active leader than his predecessor.
He is expected to work effectively on corruption, rule of law and land conflicts, issues for which he revealed a strong eagerness to tackle while he was parliament speaker.
He was also lauded for asking for no wedding gifts for his daughter’s wedding last year. Breaking with local tradition, the invitations clearly stated “No Wedding Gifts, Please.”
The ruling NLD Lower House lawmaker Daw May Win Myint, who submitted the party’s nomination of U Win Myint to parliament on Friday, told The Irrawaddy that she believed U Win Myint was the right choice for the country’s top office.
“He is decisive. And as house speaker, he was able to handle the parliament very well [over the past two years]. I hope he will oversee the executive as well as he did parliament,” she said.
During his time in the Lower House, U Win Myint was known to be a strict taskmaster. He often warned lawmakers to do their homework before the parliamentary session; to keep their proposals and questions specific and to the point. The lawmakers were not alone in receiving his stern warnings. Union ministers were also among those faulted for poorly prepared answers in parliament. Moreover, he has occasionally given military appointees in parliament a hard time.
NLD Lower House lawmaker Ma Zin Mar Aung said U Win Myint had a obtained good understanding of the checks and balances between the parliament and executive as well as the situation on the ground through lawmakers.
“He knows very well when implementing [new government] policies which parts are blocked or difficult to handle because of the bureaucracy. As he is aware of the situations, I hope he will initiate more plans to tackle those,” she said.