Myanmar lawmakers on Wednesday elected close Aung San Suu Kyi ally and former parliamentary speaker Win Myint as the country’s tenth president since it gained independence in 1948, and the second to serve under the current National League for Democracy government.
Win Myint won 403 of 636 votes, more than former President Htin Kyaw who received 360 of 652 votes in 2016. Htin Kyaw stepped down on March 21 to "take a rest" from politics.
The two current vice presidents — Myint Swe, a former lieutenant general and acting president, and Henry Van Thio, an ethnic Chin — received 211 and 18 votes, respectively, during the balloting which was observed by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and several government ministers.
Win Myint, who was tipped for the largely ceremonial position, will be sworn in on Friday, the second anniversary of the coming to power of the NLD, whose lawmakers hold 387 seats in parliament.
He was elected one of three vice presidents on March 23, putting him in a position to become the second president of the country’s nearly two-year-old civilian government.
Some observers believe that Win Myint, a political prisoner under a previous junta-led regime, will be more assertive and exercise more power than his predecessor, who was seen as a proxy president for State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Nobel laureate, who also serves as foreign affairs minister and oversees Myanmar’s stalled peace process, will continue to retain control over the country’s political affairs, however.
Though Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won general elections in November 2015 by a landslide, the constitution barred her from becoming president, because her late husband was a foreign national, as are her two sons. Instead, she stepped into the newly created position of state counselor so she could be “above the president.”
Nyo Lwin Oo, a deputy judge from Maungdaw district in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, cited Win Myint’s experience as speaker of the lower house, as a positive factor in bringing about change.
“I hope he can lead the country well as he has had experience as an MP and former lower house speaker,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “I hope he can do more to improve the judicial system and rule of law because he has a legal background.”
“I welcome his election with the expectation that we will have a better situation in the country when he serves as president,” he said.
Tun Myint, the Yangon region health director at Myanmar’s Ministry of Health, echoed Nyo Lwin Oo’s opinion of Win Myint, who was known for his hard-working and strict demeanor as house speaker.
“I believe that our country’s democratic development and federal process will move faster than before when Win Myint serves as president,” he said. “Because he has been talking about corruption in parliament, he will work arduously on anti-corruption efforts. I also hope our health sector will get better when he becomes president.”
‘He can lead the country’
Aung Aung Min, deputy director general of the Department of Higher Education under the Ministry of Education, praised Win Myint’s performance as lower house speaker.
“Whenever he needed to, he clearly instructed his MPs and carried out tasks according to the rules and the law in parliament,” he said. “The cooperation between parliament and the Ministry of Education has been good [since the NLD government came to power].”
“We will have a better relationship between the government and the Ministry of Education when he serves as president,” Aung Aung Min said.
Poet Maung Lin Yeik noted Win Myint’s leadership abilities.
“He has been working with the NLD as a politician since the 1990 election,” he said. “He was elected president because the MPs believe he can lead the country. I believe it as well.”
Win Myint, 66, was born in in Nyaung Chaung village in Ayeyarwady region’s Danubyu township. He was educated as a lawyer and served as an advocate in Myanmar’s High Court.
He was briefly imprisoned by the military junta during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising which led to the formation of the NLD, but went on to win a parliamentary seat in the 1990 elections, though the results were nullified by the military regime.
Win Myint became a member of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee in 2010 and won a parliamentary seat in by-elections in 2012.
He also won elections in 2015 as an MP representing Yangon's Tamwe township and was appointed speaker of the lower house in February 2016.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Khet Mar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.