By Timothy Mclaughlin and Hnin Yadana Zaw
Myanmar‘s National League for Democracy (NLD) has proposed a close friend of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as its presidential candidate, ending a four-month wait for the identity of the president expected to rule in her name.
The NLD nominated Htin Kyaw, who joined the party just two months ago, as its lower house candidate. Thanks to the party’s crushing parliamentary majority, that makes him near-certain to become titular head of the country’s first democratically elected government since the army seized power in 1962.
The wildly popular Suu Kyi and the NLD won a landslide electoral victory in November, but she is barred from holding the presidency herself under a junta-drafted 2008 constitution because her children are not Myanmar citizens.
Suu Kyi has said that she would run the country regardless through a proxy. Until Thursday, she and the NLD leadership had kept the identity of their nominee a closely guarded secret even from rank-and-file MPs.
Htin Kyaw runs a charity founded by Suu Kyi and has been close to her since the mid-1990s. He is not a lawmaker.
NLD central executive committee member Han Tha Myint confirmed to Reuters on Thursday that Htin Kyaw was the party’s preferred presidential candidate.
“I’m very happy,” said lower house NLD lawmaker Myint Myint Soe. “I believe our leader Aung San Suu Kyi chose the right people for these positions. I know U Htin Kyaw personally and I think he is a nice person.”
In a statement on Thursday, before the nomination was revealed, Suu Kyi urged patience from her supporters.
“I would like to appeal for people to support and stand by the NLD with wisdom and far-sightedness,” she said. “The NLD is determined to meet people’s expectations and will do its best.”
Under Myanmar‘s indirect system for electing a president, three candidates are nominated – one by the lower house, one by the upper house, and one by the military bloc in parliament, who under the constitution hold a quarter of seats in both houses.
After the candidates have been vetted by a parliamentary commission, both houses will come together to vote in a joint session, with the winner elected president and the two losing nominees becoming vice presidents.
Because the NLD has a comfortable majority in both chambers it effectively controls two of the nominations.
The NLD nominated Henry Vantriu, a member of the Chin ethnic group from Chin state in the country’s northwest bordering India and Bangladesh, as its candidate from the upper house.
The party wants Vantriu to become a vice president to represent the country’s myriad ethnic minorities, said executive committee member Han Tha Myint.
That is in line with Suu Kyi’s goal of forming a government for national reconciliation. She hopes to end conflict between state forces and numerous armed ethnic groups in the country.
“I am happy and honoured personally, as well as as a Chin ethnic, to be selected to do the highest duty for our country,” Vantriu said as he left parliament. “We, the ethnic people, will do our best for every sector in the nation-building process.”
Local media have named Thet Swe, a former navy chief who stepped down last year to run in the election representing the far flung Coco Islands, as one of the possible nominees for the military. The armed forces bloc of MPs, who will make their nomination separately, were not present at the parliament building on Thursday morning.
The president picks the cabinet that will take over from President Thein Sein’s outgoing government on April 1, with the exception of the heads of the home, defence and border security ministries who will be appointed by the armed forces chief.
There was confusion among members of parliament over how soon the presidential vote would take place.
A director from the parliament told Reuters on Wednesday that the vote would not be held until at least Monday.