Myanmar’s parliament elected a close friend and confidant of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as president on Tuesday, making Htin Kyaw the first head of state who does not hail from a military background since the 1960s, Reuters reports. Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide election win in November, but a constitution drafted by the former junta bars her from the top office.
She has vowed to run the country anyway through a proxy president, and on Thursday the NLD nominated Htin Kyaw for the role. He runs a charity founded by Suu Kyi and has been a trusted member of her inner circle since the mid-1990s. He is not a lawmaker. “Today’s result is because of the love of people for her. It is the victory of my sister Aung San Suu Kyi,” Htin Kyaw told reporters after the vote.
The NLD’s sizeable majority ensured a comfortable win for Suu Kyi’s pick in a vote by both houses of parliament. Htin Kyaw received 360 of the 652 votes cast. Suu Kyi was the first member of parliament to vote and clapped and smiled when the result was announced.
Outgoing President Thein Sein issued a statement congratulating the man who will replace him on April 1. “On behalf of the nation and the people, I take pride in your being elected as the president,” Thein Sein said in the statement. NLD lawmakers, most of whom have no experience as members of parliament, spent time rehearsing how they would vote the night before the election, a Reuters witness said.
They were keen to ensure there were no last minute mistakes that would cost them a presidency they had campaigned for decades to see. “This is the big day for us,” Zar Ni Min, an NLD lower house MP, said after the vote. “This is what we have hoped for a long time ago.”
Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said that despite the celebrations there was no time for complacency because Myanmar had hundreds of laws that were out of line with its international obligations, and people could be sentenced to hard labor for “all kinds of reasons”.
The change of government was also a chance to break the “tragic status quo situation” of a million Muslims from the Rohingya minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, who had been deprived of their most fundamental rights, she said.
Tens of thousands of Rohingyas have fled poverty and persecution in western Myanmar since religious violence erupted in 2012, and Lee told a news conference in Geneva she was afraid more would flee in the 2016 sailing season.