Htin Kyaw tipped to be 'puppet president'

Htin Kyaw tipped to be 'puppet president'

Aung San Suu Kyi heads the party that swept elections but is ineligible to be president, and will have to serve as a
Aung San Suu Kyi heads the party that swept elections but is ineligible to be president, and will have to serve as a "super premier" like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. (Reuters photo)

Later today Myanmar's parliament will nominate three vice-presidents who will then stand in a three-way presidential poll in the next few days. The upper and lower houses each elect a vice-president, and the military, which holds 25% of the parliamentary seats, according to the constitution, nominate the third.

Although there is no official statement from the National League for Democracy (NLD) which overwhelmingly won last November's elections, it is now almost certain that the next president will be Htin Kyaw. He will in effect be a "proxy president" as the country's real political leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will wield power from inside the government.

The iconic pro-democracy leader is set to become "senior minister" in the cabinet -- along the lines of Singapore's former prime minister, Lee Kwan Yew after he officially retired from the top post, according to senior sources in the NLD. The new position will possibly be within the president's office, where she will effectively run the government, or as head of a new ministry to oversee the transition and the development of democracy.

"She will be chief minister and direct policy," said a senior NLD source, who declined to be named as he had no authority to speak on behalf of the party. "It will in effect be the prime minister's post or Chief de Cabinet," he added.

In recent weeks NLD members of parliament were tipping their leader to take the foreign minister's post as this is the only civilian minister on the all powerful National Defence and Security Council -- presided over by the president -- but includes the army's commander in chief and his deputy. It oversees policy, while the government handles the day-to-day running of the country.

At present the council favours the military, which has six members -- apart from the top two military chiefs, it includes the three ministers appointed by the military [defence, border and home affairs] and the vice-president appointed by the military.

On the other hand, the NLD will be represented by the president and the other civilian vice-president, the speakers of the upper and lower house and the foreign minister, giving them five members.

According to NLD insiders, Ms Suu Kyi plans to try to change the composition of the policy body, by adding the prime minister to the council, making the composition six to six. The military may accept this, according to informed sources in the army. But according to Myanmar analysts even if she was not on the Security Council, she will in effect be running the country, and everyone knows and accepts that.

"In the history of Myanmar many crucial and important decisions are made outside organisational structures," said a government official on condition of anonymity. "What matters most is the authority of the person."

But for the moment the key issue is who will be president, as according to the constitution they appoint the cabinet and the chief ministers in the states and regions. According to most party insiders Htin Kyaw -- an unassuming man, who has been close to the Lady -- will be the NLD's top candidate to be announced to parliament later today. He is currently a senior executive in Aung San Suu Kyi's charitable foundation --  the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation -- named after her mother. He is a year younger than Aung San Suu Kyi.

Htin Kyaw has all the credentials to be Aung San Suu Kyi's "puppet president", as she has continually insisted she will be above the president and effectively running the government. Crucially he is the son-in-law of U Lwin, one of the founders of the party and its key executive during Aung San Suu Kyi's long-time house arrest. He has also served as her driver at various times when she was released. His father, Min Thu Wun, was a renowned poet, who earned the official title of National Poet.

Born in 1946, he graduated from Yangon Institute of Economics. He later graduated from Oxford University in 1972, Htin Kyaw is a writer in his own right, under the pen name of Dala Ban -- or "Mon Warrior", a name his father gave him when was only three months old. His family's political credentials also stand him in good stead. His father was elected as an MP in the 1990 elections, that the NLD also convincingly won but were not allowed to govern by the military. He was also selected to be head of the new government at that time, as Ms Suu Kyi was under house arrest. He has since passed away.

It is less clear who will be the NLD's second nomination for vice-president. Traditionally one of the vice-presidents is a member of one of the country's ethnic minorities. According to NLD insiders, the party has been debating whether their second candidate should be from the NLD or whether they should nod towards diversity. To show their commitment to the country's ethnic minorities, the likely choice is one of the key leaders of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). The league has been aligned with the NLD ever since it was formed to fight the 1990 elections. It was the second largest party at the polls then, winning most of the seats in Shan state. Although they did not fare as well this time, they have 15 seats in the combined national parliament.

"We should be included in the NLD government," SNLD chairman Hkun Htun Oo told the Bangkok Post. But he is ruled out of the contest by the same constitutional clause that prevents Ms Suu Kyi from being nominated because his daughter is an Australian citizen. In which case the second rank leader Sai Nyunt Lwin is expected to be the NLD nomination from the Upper House -- which represents the SNLD.

Speculation and rumour surrounds the likely military candidate for vice-president. But sources in the military are confident the former senior army officer Lt General Hla Htay Win, now an MP, is going to be nominated.


Larry Jagan is a specialist on Myanmar and a former BBC World Service  editor for the region.

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