By SU MYAT MON in YANGON
and NYAN HLAING LYNN in NAY PYI TAW | FRONTIER
Myanmar has a new president.
A week after U Htin Kyaw stood down as leader of the country, on Wednesday parliament elected former Pyithu Hluttaw speaker U Win Myint to be the country’s 10th president since independence.
In the vote, Win Myint won overwhelmingly with 403 out of 636. Acting president and military candidate U Myint Swe won 211 and incumbent vice president Henry Van Thio took 18 votes. There were four abstentions.
As he left parliament, Win Myint told reporters: “I am going to serve my duty as well as I can.” He is expected to be sworn in later this week.
Born in Danubyu, on the western banks of the Irrawaddy River, in Ayeyarwady Region in 1951, he graduated from the University of Yangon with a degree in geology, before studying law in the 1980s.
He became a High Court advocate in 1985 at the age of 34, before being jailed for his role in the 1988 anti-government uprising. He was released in time for the 1990 election, and ran successfully in Danubyu, but the military junta refused to honour the result.
Like many members of the opposition movement during the years of military rule, Win Myint has been jailed several times, most notably around the time that his only son fell critically ill, according to an article in The Irrawaddy.
Shortly before his son died, military intelligence offered Win Myint the chance to see his son, but only if he signed a document renouncing politics.
“I couldn’t accept it as my constituents believed in me and voted for me,” he is reported to have told local media outlet Kamayut shortly after he was elected Lower House speaker. “I don’t hold grudges against any organisation for that. But in my heart, I want my son to be beside me.”
He returned to politics in the 2012 by-election, winning the lower house seat in Ayeyarwady’s Pathein Township. He ran again in the 2015 election, winning the Pyithu Hluttaw seat at Tarmwe, before he was promoted to speaker.
A close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, he is well respected for his decisive role as Lower House speaker.
Not one to shy away from conflict, on more than one occasion he reprimanded military-linked lawmakers in parliament, and in early 2017 he chastised an NLD MP for reading a newspaper during a hluttaw session. Days before that incident, he kicked another MP out of parliament for failing to adhere to strict rules regarding uniform (the MP was wearing a blue collarless shirt, instead of the prescribed white).
He has spoken in defence of farmers rights, and in 2012 called for the assets of government officials to be publicly revealed.
His accession to the presidency has largely been met with a positive response inside the country.
Daw Daw Nyo Thin, a former independent MP in the Yangon Region government, said she hoped that Win Myint would follow through on his proposal of scrutinising the assets of government officials.
“He is now the person leading the country, so we expect he will carry it out,” she said.
She also said she hoped he would follow through on his reputation for being strong on protecting the rights of farmers, a hot topic in the country.
“Moreover, when he was Lower House speaker, there were some ministries that he was not happy with, so I hope he will take decisive action on them,” she said.
However, Nyo Nyo Thin acknowledged that the new president will still be under the control of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, just as Htin Kyaw was.
“Everybody in the country and the world knows that,” she said.
Daw Chaw Chaw Sein, a professor and head of the International Relations department at the University of Yangon, said she was optimistic about a Win Myint presidency.
“In my view, U Win Myint’s personality is important,” she said, referring to his decisiveness in parliamentary sessions as house speaker.
She also acknowledged the control Aung San Suu Kyi has over the president, and said she hoped the State Counsellor will “bestow power on U Win Myint, by trusting his personality”.
She also urged Win Myint to work closely with the military.
“I urge the president to listen to the public and make his own decisions,” she said.
U Thein Tun, a Pyithu Hluttaw MP for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (Kyaunggon, Ayeyarwady), said he hoped Win Myint’s appointment would coincide with a reshuffle of “competent ministers”.
“Depending on his action, U Win Myint will be accepted by the people. If the country maintains stability and the economy improves, the new president is going to be successful,” he said.
Daw Khin San Hlaing, a lower house NLD lawmaker (Pale, Sagaing), and a member of the Scrutiny Committee for the Qualification of the Vice President, said that the army has supported the prospect of Win Myint becoming president.
“When viewed from [a legal] point, U Win Myint has nothing short of the requirements for president. They [the military] have said nothing to object,” she said.
Sai Thant Zin, a Pythu Hluttaw Lawmaker for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy in Hsipaw, Shan State, said that he hoped the president would help create to build “a federal union based on equality”.