NAYPYIDAW, BURMA — The party of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi nominated one of her closest advisers Thursday as its candidate for president, ending for now her efforts to negotiate a deal with the military to take the post herself.
In a subdued session, Suu Kyi’s party members in the lower house of parliament chose Htin Kyaw, a trusted confidant who runs an educational foundation, as the party’s candidate in the presidential selection process that began Thursday. If he is elected by a parliamentary body, Htin Kyaw would be the first leader in decades from outside the military in Burma, a Southeast Asian nation long ruled by an oppressive regime.
The nomination followed weeks of talks with Burma’s powerful generals on circumventing a military-imposed constitutional provision that bars the revered Nobel Peace laureate from becoming president. The military refused to budge on the prohibition, which applies to Burmese with foreign spouses or children. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British, as was her late husband.
In a meeting with fellow party members, Suu Kyi praised Htin Kyaw’s loyalty, saying her longtime friend had the intellectual weight to appeal to both local and international audiences.
Suu Kyi has said that she will be the one managing the new government anyway, in a role that she describes as “above the president.”
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) 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. After a winnowing process, Burma’s parliament will formally select the president and two vice presidents from three candidates. Nominations have also been made by the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party, the party of outgoing president Thein Sein. In addition, a nominee will be offered by parliament’s military wing. The election process will continue into next week.
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.
Analysts and supporters agreed that the party’s choice of Htin Kyaw, 69, leaves no doubt that Suu Kyi will have control of the country’s nascent democratic government for as long as he serves. The two attended the same school as children, and he became an important sounding board after she returned to her homeland from England in 1988 and became a leader in Burma’s pro-democracy movement, enduring years of house arrest at the hands of the military.
“He is a gentleman, faithful and loyal,” said May Win Myint, an 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 a senior executive in Suu Kyi’s charity, the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, which is named after her late mother and provides development aid and skills training in poorer areas of Burma. The country, also known as Myanmar, remains one of the most impoverished in Asia.
The son of a respected Burmese writer and poet, he earned a statistics degree at a university in Rangoon, studied computer science at the University of London and worked as a university tutor and government servant.
Shortly after Suu Kyi addressed her party members Thursday, NLD spokesman Zaw Myint Maung hinted that if Htin Kyaw is voted in as president in the coming days and the party launches its government on April 1, it will work to amend the section of the constitution that bars Suu Kyi from the presidency as “early as possible.”
“It's the people’s desire. They want Aung San Suu Kyi to become president,” he said.
However, passing such an amendment would be a tall order. The military-drafted constitution requires more than 75 percent of legislators to approve a constitutional amendment, and 25 percent of the seats are reserved for the military.
Since November’s victory, Suu Kyi has had a singular role in the transition process, holding prominent meetings with key generals and revealing her plans to only her 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 Rangoon in Suu Kyi’s party. “Here, the situation is very vulnerable, very sensitive and very fragile. So she is handling the situation carefully.”
Legislators from her party — including former political prisoners and dozens who had never served in 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 of Naypyidaw, a city with few permanent residents and dozens of towering buildings that were 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 Union Solidarity and Development Party, which was trounced in November’s elections, has said it will cooperate with a smooth transition. But the military still runs the security forces and the key ministries of home, border protection and defense, besides holding a mandatory quarter of the seats in parliament.
Eaint Thiri Thu contributed to this report.