Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi thanked her supporters today and sounded a hopeful note for the future, in her first comments after lawmakers approved her chosen proxy to become the nation’s first civilian president in decades. The veteran activist said she was proud of MPs from her National League for Democracy for rallying around Htin Kyaw, a close aide and longtime friend, who will now lead the former junta-run country in her place as it embarks on a new era of democratic rule.
She also thanked the millions of voters who handed her party a whopping election win in November polls, the freest in generations. “I don’t know how to properly express thanks to our people who have long peacefully supported the works of the NLD. I believe we can overcome all of the challenges we will have to face along with our people,” she said in a written statement.
Though Htin Kyaw took the title of president yesterday following a parliamentary vote, he hailed the day as “Suu Kyi’s victory”. The taciturn but wildly popular democracy icon is blocked from the top office by a junta-era charter. But she has vowed to stay in control of the party by directing Htin Kyaw from behind the scenes. Little known outside his country until this week, Htin Kyaw received congratulations from foreign leaders around the globe after his election.
Myanmar’s still-powerful military also said it was “pleased” with his presidency and vowed to cooperate with the NLD, a party packed with democracy activists once jailed by the army for protesting its harsh rule. “The Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) will go on to cooperate with (his government) and carry out every upcoming process for peace, stability, unity and development,” the army said in a statement.
Htin Kyaw will be sworn in on March 30 and replace Thein Sein, the retired general credited with guiding Myanmar out of bleak junta rule as president of a quasi-civilian government that took over in 2011. His administration oversaw a stream of political and economic reforms that lifted heavy restraints on free speech and opened the impoverished country’s borders up to a rush of foreign investment.
But the new government will still face a heap of challenges, including poverty, civil wars in ethnic minority borderlands and decrepit infrastructure. A key task will be managing relations with the military, which still retains a significant wedge of power in parliament and controls the vital home, defence and border ministries.