NAYPYIDAW, Burma — A former schoolmate of Aung San Suu Kyi was nominated as a presidential candidate in Burma’s Parliament Thursday, ending weeks of speculation that the revered pro-democracy leader herself would take that role.
In a subdued session Thursday, Suu Kyi’s party members in the Lower House of Parliament nominated Htin Kyaw, a trusted adviser who runs an education foundation named for Suu Kyi’s mother, as the party’s candidate in the presidential selection process that started Thursday.
If he is chosen, Htin Kyaw would be the first leader in decades not to come from the ranks of the military in Burma, the Southeast Asian nation long ruled by an oppressive regime.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will dominate the historic selection process as it holds a comfortable majority in Parliament after a landslide victory in November’s general election, the first democratic contest in years.
Suu Kyi, who endured years of house arrest under the regime, has said that she will be the one managing the new government, slated to take over next month, in a role that is “above the president.”
“I don’t really see what is so attractive about the title of president,” she told The Washington Post in an interview in November. “What we want is the opportunity to be able to work for our country. And whether I am called president or something else, that is not relevant, really.”
She is currently barred from becoming president by a constitutional provision — whose military drafters designed with her in mind, many believe — the prohibits any person with a foreign spouse or children from serving in that role. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British.
Analysts and supporters agreed that the party’s choice of Htin Kyaw, 69, leaves no doubt that Suu Kyi will remain in control of the country’s nascent democratic government.
“He is a gentleman, faithful and loyal,” said May Win Myint, a NLD member of Parliament familiar with the nominating process. “He is the closest to Aung San Suu Kyi and he is the one who would completely follow her advice.”
Htin Kyaw is currently a senior executive in Suu Kyi’s charity, the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, which provides development aid and skills training in poorer areas of Burma. Burma, also known as Myanmar, remains one of the most impoverished Asian nations.
The son of a respected Burmese writer and poet, Htin Kyaw was a primary school friend of Suu Kyi’s who went on to earn a statistics degree from the Yangon Institute of Economics, study computer science at the University of London and to work as a university tutor and government servant.
Burma’s Parliament will formally select the president and two vice-presidents likely next week from several candidates, including those nominated by the Parliament’s military wing and the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Henry Van Thio, from the ethnic Chin minority, was nominated by the NLD in parliament’s Upper House and is favored to become one of the two vice presidents.
Since November’s victory, Suu Kyi, 70, has had a singular role in the transition process, holding a handful of prominent meetings with key generals and revealing her plans to only a handful of closest advisers.
“The situation is quite unique and can’t be compared to a full-fledged democratic process that is transparent,” said Thet Thet Khine, a member of Parliament from Yangon from Suu Kyi’s party. “Here, the situation is very vulnerable, very sensitive and very fragile. So she is handling the situation carefully.”
Members of Parliament from her party — including former political prisoners and dozens who had never served public office before — have been largely sequestered since they assembled to begin the process of transitioning to the new government in February.
They are living in spartan barracks in Burma’s eerie capital city of Naypyidaw, a city with few permanent residents and dozens of towering buildings which had been secretly carved out of the farmland and scrub brush by the regime in the mid-2000s. The military began the process of democratic reforms and a transition to a civilian-led government in 2010.
The military-backed USDP, which was trounced in November’s elections, has said that they will cooperate with a smooth transition. But the military still runs the country’s security forces, key ministries of home, border protection and defense and holds a mandatory 25 percent of the seats in Parliament.