Like his predecessor Htin Kyaw, who retired last week for reasons of ill health, Win Myint is a Suu Kyi loyalist of many years and a long-time member of her National League for Democracy.

Win Myint (C) attends a parliamentary session where he was elected president, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.
Win Myint (C) attends a parliamentary session where he was elected president, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. (Reuters)

Myanmar's parliament on Wednesday elected Win Myint, a loyalist of Aung San Suu Kyi, as the country's new president. Suu Kyi retains her executive authority over the government.

The vote comes as Myanmar's civilian government has struggled to implement peace and national reconciliation as the politically powerful military continues its campaign against the Muslim Rohingya minority, a policy which some in the international community including the UN have labelled ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar's military ruled the country for a half-century during which it was accused of widespread abuses before partially handing power to a civilian government in 2016. It is still in charge of security matters and faces accusations of rights abuses, especially in its recent crackdown in Rakhine state, pushing over half a million Rohingya to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Like his predecessor Htin Kyaw, who retired last week for reasons of ill health, Win Myint, 66, has been a Suu Kyi loyalist of many years and a long-time member of her National League for Democracy (NLD), an affiliation which earned him a brief spell as a political prisoner more than two decades ago under the previous military government.

When Suu Kyi's government was installed in 2016, she said she would be "above the president," a situation amenable to both the president and the public.

Specially created position

The job of state counsellor was created especially for Suu Kyi because she is constitutionally banned from the presidency. A clause in the 2008 military-drafted constitution bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the job. It clearly targeted Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British, as was her late husband.

Myanmar's president is elected by a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament from among the country's three vice presidents, representing respectively the lower house, the upper house and the military, which under the constitution holds special privileges in the country's administration including a 25 percent share of parliamentary seats and the three security portfolios in the cabinet.

The NLD's landslide election victory in late 2015 gave it large majorities in both houses.

Win Myint received 403 votes of the combined houses against 211 for Myint Swe, the military's nominee, and 18 for Vice President Henry Van Tio.

Old political hand

Win Myint, who resigned as speaker of the lower house last week, was a successful parliamentary candidate in the 1990 general election that was invalidated by the military, denying him his seat. He was elected in 2012 and again in 2015.

Born in the Irrawaddy Delta in 1951, Win Myint won his degree in geology in Yangon, only to become a lawyer in the 1980s. His involvement with the NLD began when it was established during the failed anti-military uprising of 1988, which led to his brief stint in prison. In 2010, he became a member of the Central Executive Committee of Suu Kyi's party.

"Win Myint was educated as a lawyer and has been loyal to the party as well," said Aung Shin, a close friend and colleague. "More importantly, he has always worked together with Aung San Suu Kyi and they have mutual trust. I see him as a very reliable person who will be a great president for the country, and people are very optimistic about him."

An independent analyst, Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a policy advocacy group, questioned whether Win Myint's fealty to Suu Kyi was an asset.

"To those who are asking, he will be forever Aung San Suu Kyi's henchman," he said. "I don't expect much change in the presidency, unless Win Myint puts the country's interests before Aung San Suu Kyi's and that of the military."

Source: AP