Burma's Union Parliament Selects New President
March 18, 2016 (IN10464)
Related Policy Issue
Southeast Asia, Australasia, and the Pacific Islands
Michael F. Martin
Michael F. Martin, Specialist in Asian Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-2199)
On March 15, 2016, Burma's Union Parliament selected Htin Kyaw, childhood friend and close advisor to Aung San
Suu Kyi, to serve as the nation's first President since 1962 who has not served in the military. His selection as
President-Elect completes another step in the nation's five-month-long transition from a largely military-controlled
government to one led by the National League for Democracy (NLD). In addition, it also marks at least a temporary
end to Aung San Suu Kyi's efforts to become Burma's President and may reveal signs of growing tensions between the
NLD and the Burmese military.
Htin Kyaw received the support of 360 of the 652 Members of Parliament (MPs), defeating retired Lt. General Myint
Swe (who received 213 votes, of which 166 were from military MPs) and Henry Na Thio (who received 79 votes). The
69-year-old President-Elect is expected to be sworn into office on March 30, 2016. Myint Swe and Henry Van Thio
will serve as 1st and 2nd Vice President, respectively.
On November 8, 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in
nationwide parliamentary elections (see CRS Insight IN10397, Burma's Parliamentary Elections, by Michael F.
Martin) that gave the party a majority of the seats in both chambers of Burma's Union Parliament. In early February
2016, the new MPs took office (see CRS Insight IN10441, Aung San Suu Kyi's Party Takes Control of Parliament in
Burma, by Michael F. Martin) replacing a parliament controlled by outgoing President Thein Sein's pro-military Union
Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). On March 11, the Union Parliament chose the three candidates for
President and Vice President.
Following the parliamentary elections, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing three times,
reportedly to negotiate a deal to suspend or amend a provision in Burma's 2008 constitution that prevents her serving as
President. Following the third meeting, the NLD moved forward the date for selecting candidates for President from
March 17 to March 10, a decision that may have indicated that Aung San Suu Kyi had given up her effort to be selected
as President at this time.
Htin Kyaw, 69, is a NLD member and reportedly a trusted childhood friend of Aung San Suu Kyi. His father-in-law, U
Lwin, was a co-founder of the NLD; his wife, Su Su Lwin, is a Member of Parliament. He has a Master's degree in
economics from Rangoon University and studied computer science at the University of London. Htin Kyaw is
reportedly of mixed Bamar-Mon heritage. He also is a senior executive with Aung San Suu Kyi's charity, the Daw Khin
Kyi Foundation. He has never served in the Burmese military.
Burma's Two Vice Presidents-Elect
Myint Swe, 65, who was chosen a candidate by the military MPs on March 11, was a career Army officer and is
considered a close associate to retired Senior General Than Shwe, the leader of Burma's last military junta, the State
Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Myint Swe reportedly played a central role in the January 2012 ouster of
SPDC Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt. Khin Nyunt was succeeded by General Thein Sein as the SPDC's Prime
Minister. Myint Swe is on the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list of persons
subject to certain economic sanctions. He is also presumably on the State Department's list of Burmese nationals not to
be granted a visa to enter the United States.
Henry Van Thio, 57, who was the candidate chosen by the upper house of the Union Parliament, is an ethnic Chin and
was a major in the Burmese Army. A long-standing NLD member, he was elected to the upper house in the Chin State's
3rd constituency. Henry Van Thio's selection surprised some observers, who had speculated that someone from the
Shan ethnic minority would be chosen.
Next Steps in the Transition
With a President-Elect chosen, the next step in the transition process will be formation of President Htin Kyaw's cabinet.
Htin Kyaw has proposed to the Union Parliament to reduce the number of ministries from 36 to 21. Media sources
indicate that the NLD will nominate some ethnic minority candidates to the cabinet to foster ties with Burma's ethnic
minorities. President-Elect Htin Kyaw also is expected to nominate candidates for chief ministers to Burma's 14
subnational Regions and States. One Burmese media organization has indicated that the ministerial candidates may be
announced as soon as March 21. All the candidates are subject to confirmation by the Union Parliament.
Trouble Ahead with the Military?
The military MPs' selection of Myint Swe reportedly surprised the NLD and may indicate that the Burmese military
intend to resist further political reforms. Myint Swe has been portrayed by some media as an anti-reform hardliner who
will seek to preserve the military's role in Burma's government. Prior to the nomination of Myint Swe as a presidential
candidate, other signs of tensions between the NLD and the Burmese military had emerged. Members of President
Thein Sein's cabinet have refused to respond to questions from the NLD-led Union Parliament, claiming that they are
not responsible to the new Union Parliament. On February 26, all 110 military MPs in the lower house stood up in
unison to protest an NLD MP raising questions on the floor about the transfer of land and property to the military
authorized by President Thein Sein's government. In addition, the Burmese military have shown no signs of easing up
their military attacks on ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States.
Implications for U.S. Relations
The continued gradual transition from a military-dominated to a civilian-led government in Burma is largely consistent
with U.S. policy goals and an encouraging sign of the potential for positive changes in the future. The Burmese
military's apparent lack of cooperation with the NLD-led government on some matters may indicate that progress is not
assured and may not be easy to obtain.