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Suu Kyi aide Htin Kyaw voted Myanmar's new president

Natalie Muller (AP, AFP, Reuters)March 15, 2016

Myanmar's parliament has elected Htin Kyaw, confidant and close friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, as the country's new president. He's the Southeast Asian nation's first civilian leader after decades of military rule.

Myanmar Htin Kyaw Staatspräsident mit Aung San Suu Kyi Parteivorsitzende
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Shine Oo

Htin Kyaw received 360 of the 652 votes cast, the parliamentary official counting the votes said on Tuesday. Lawmakers burst into applause when the results to the historic presidential election were read out.

Htin Kyaw, 69, a respected poet and aide to pro-democracy leader Aung Suu Kyi was widely expected to win the vote. He is to replace incumbent Thein Sein on April 1, when he'll become the country's first democratically elected leader in more than five decades.

"This is sister Aung San Suu Kyi's victory. Thank you," he told reporters after the vote. "This is a victory for the people of this country."

Myanmar's electoral system requires that a president be chosen from three candidates - one put forward by each of the two legislative chambers, and a third proposed by the military, which retains a quarter of the legislative seats.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) nominated Htin Kyaw for the role on Thursday. The two other candidates were ethnic Chin MP Henry Van Thio, a Suu Kyi ally put forward by the upper house, and the military's nominee Myint Swe, a retired army general still blacklisted by the United States. They have been selected as vice presidents.

First civilian leader in decades

Suu Kyi, 70, is tremendously popular in Myanmar, where she's the face of the country's decades-long struggle for democracy. The Nobel Laureate led her NLD party to a landslide victory in landmark November elections which were seen as a resounding endorsement of her movement's call for change.

Last year's vote was a key step for Myanmar in its transition from military junta to an increasingly open democracy. Still, the military remains a powerful force in the country. Although Suu Kyi is the undisputed leader of the NLD, a clause in the junta-penned constitution bars her from the presidency because her two sons are British.

The veteran pro-democracy activist has instead vowed to rule through a proxy. President-elect Htin Kyaw is not a lawmaker in the parliament, but he runs a charity founded by Suu Kyi and has been a trusted member of her inner circle since the mid-1990s.

A new Cabinet is also expected to be announced before the end of the month. It will be tasked with addressing a number of challenges confronting the country, including poverty, infrastructure shortages and conflicts in ethnic minority borderlands.