One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s picks for her party’s two presidential candidates pledged Thursday to prioritize ethnic affairs and focus on national reconciliation, echoing her plan to bring together the country’s various armed ethnic groups that have been engaged in hostilities with the Myanmar army for decades.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), which Aung San Suu Kyi chairs, nominated Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin NLD deputy in parliament’s upper house, along with Htin Kyaw, a long-time aide to Aung San Suu Kyi, for president.
“As a Chin ethnic, I am very happy and proud of being nominated as a vice president which is one of the highest positions in the nation,” Van Thio said. “It highlights how serious I am about acting in the interest of ethnic peoples.”
“What I would like to say is that I will work as much as I can for the ethnics and to build a new nation,” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won last November’s general elections with more than 80 percent of the vote, has made national reconciliation a cornerstone of the NLD-led government.
“What I see on NLD’s agenda is that it has given priority to the ethnics groups because our country needs national reconciliation right now,” he said.
Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups, which have long opposed centralized authority, have called for a federal union, giving their states the right to democracy, national equality and autonomy.
“We nominated a Chin candidate because we are thinking about national reconciliation, ethnic unity and building a federal union,” said NLD spokesman Zaw Myint Maung. “We did it according to our policy, which [requires] any president to be one who is faithful to the NLD and will work for the country and the people.”
Other ethnic deputies in the National Assembly gave their seal of approval to Van Thio.
“What the NLD did for nominating vice presidents was beautiful,” said Sai Eik Paung, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP). “The NLD’s action seems to be inclusive and multiethnic which can be seen as [moving closer] to a federal system.”
“I like it. I hope we will have better situation in the country,” he said.
Some ethnic deputies also praised the NLD’s nomination of Htin Kyaw, an ethnic Burman-Mon who helps run Aung San Suu Kyi’s charitable foundation, as the candidate in the lower house.
Although the lower house, upper house and military lawmakers, who hold 25 percent of reserved seats, each separately elect a vice-presidential candidate, it is believed that Htin Kyaw will be elected president when the combined, NLD-dominated houses cast votes for the three nominees.
Under Myanmar’s political system, whoever gets the most votes will become president, while the two runners-up will be appointed vice presidents.
Manan Tuu Jar, chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party, said Htin Kyaw, son of famous poet Min Thu Wun and son-in-law of former army colonel U Lwin who joined the opposition NLD party in its early stages, was the right person for the job.
“He has a political history, is in good health, and is an intellectual … We will support him,” he said.
But not everyone agreed.
“Htin Kyaw doesn’t have much experience, but he has some qualifications,” said Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party (Myanmar). “The most important thing for him is to have his own power to do what he wants to do.”
According to the constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi, cannot become president because her two sons are foreign nationals, as was her late husband. Nevertheless, she has said that she will be above the president.
“There are two kinds of presidents, such as the puppet president and the powerful president," Thu Wai said. "We should have a powerful president with full of qualifications.”
The military has yet to name its nominee.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt, Thin Thiri, Thiha Tun and Wai Mar Tun. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.