NAYPYITAW (TIP): Htin Kyaw, a confidante of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was sworn in Wednesday as Myanmar’s president, ushering in the first democratically elected government into office after decades of military rule.
The 70-year-old Htin Kyaw took the oath of office in a joint session of Myanmar’s newly elected parliament with his two vice presidents at his side, as Suu Kyi sat watching in the front row. “I, Htin Kyaw, will be loyal to the union and the people of the union,” he said, reading from a written pledge, while repeating after the house speaker Mann Win Khaing Than. “I will respect this constitution and the laws of the nation.”
The same pledge was simultaneously read by First Vice President Myint Swe and Second Vice President Henry Van Tio. Later in the day, outgoing President Thein Sein will formally hand over the presidency to Htin Kyaw.
Rightfully, the job belonged to Suu Kyi, who has been the face of the pro-democracy movement and who endured decades of house arrest and harassment by military rulers without ever giving up on her non-violent campaign to unseat them. But a constitutional provision barred Suu Kyi from becoming president, and she made it clear that whoever sits in that chair will be her proxy. She has said repeatedly she will run the government from behind the scenes.
Still, Htin Kyaw will be remembered by history as the first civilian president for Myanmar and the head of its first government to be elected in free and fair polls. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory in elections last November, in a reflection of Suu Kyi’s widespread public support. The constitutional clause that denied her the presidency excludes anyone from the position who has a foreign spouse or children. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British, as was her late husband. The clause is widely seen as having been written by the military with Suu Kyi in mind.
The democracy that Suu Kyi and her colleagues are building is still not a complete package. The military has reserved 25 percent of the seats in parliament for itself, guaranteeing that no government can amend the constitution without its approval. Also, it ensured that one of Htin Kyaw’s two vice presidents is a former general, Myint Swe, a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe. Myint Swe remains on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist that bars American companies from doing business with several tycoons and senior military figures connected with the former junta.