NAYPYIDAW, Burma — Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi nominated a trusted friend to Burma’s highest office Thursday, even as her party said it would work quickly to remove a constitutional bar to her own presidency.
In a subdued session Thursday, Suu Kyi’s party members in the Lower House of parliament nominated Htin Kyaw, a trusted adviser who runs an educational foundation, as the party’s candidate in the presidential selection process that began Thursday. If he is chosen, Htin Kyaw would be the first leader in decades from outside the military in Burma, the Southeast Asian nation long ruled by an oppressive regime.
In a closed-door 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.
But shortly after she spoke, her party spokesman, Zaw Myint Maung, hinted that if Htin Kyaw is voted in as president in the coming days, he may not serve for long. Once the National League for Democracy launches its government on April 1, the spokesman said, it will work to amend the section of the constitution that bars those with foreign spouses and children from the presidency as “early as possible.” Suu Kyi’s two sons are British.
“It’s the people’s desire. They want Aung San Suu Kyi to become president,” he said.
However, passing such an amendment would be tall order. The military-drafted constitution requires at least 75 percent of legislators to approve a constitutional amendment, and 25 percent of the seats are reserved for the military.
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 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. Burma’s parliament will formally select the president and two vice presidents likely next week from several candidates, including those nominated by parliament’s military wing and the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party, the party of outgoing president Thein Sein.
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. Burma, also known as Myanmar, remains one of the most impoverished Asian nations.
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.
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 had been 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 USDP, which was trounced in November’s elections, has said that it will cooperate with a smooth transition. But the military still runs the country’s security forces and 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.