YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Myanmar’s president, a close friend of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said Wednesday he would retire, a move that puts a representative of the country’s already powerful military at least temporarily in a position of executive power.
The announcement on the president’s Facebook page said 71-year-old President Htin Kyaw wished to take a rest. It follows reports that he suffered ill health that forced him to travel abroad for medical care at least twice in the past year.
The statement said his post would be filled within seven working days, in line with the constitution.
Htin Kyaw became president in March 2016. He was Myanmar’s first elected civilian president and head of its first government to be elected in free and fair polls since a 1962 military coup.
After Htin Kyaw became president, Suu Kyi became Myanmar’s de facto leader when she was named state councilor, a position created for the country’s once-leading voice for democracy since she is constitutionally banned from the presidency. A clause in the charter bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the job; her two sons are British, as was her late husband.
By mutual agreement, Htin Kyaw in office acted as a proxy for Suu Kyi, who is also foreign minister. Suu Kyi had explained publicly – and to public approval – that she would be “above the president.”
Htin Kyaw was known more as a personal loyalist to Suu Kyi rather than an active political member of her National League for Democracy party, though his wife is a daughter of one of the party’s founding members. He spent time in jail for helping Suu Kyi try to make an unsanctioned make a trip out of Yangon under a previous military government, and served as a director of a charitable foundation named after Suu Kyi’s mother.
Myanmar has two vice presidents, and according to its constitution, 66-year old First Vice President Myint Swe will serve as acting president. He was nominated for vice president by the military, which enjoys special privileges over the government.
Myint Swe, a former lieutenant general, was chief of military affairs security under the former military government, a position important enough to put him in 2007 on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist with restrictions on travel and financial transactions because of their anti-democratic activities. He and others were taken off the list in late 2016 as a gesture of support from Washington to Suu Kyi’s government, installed earlier that year. Myint Swe was also regarded as being close to Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who headed the last military government.
When a vote is taken for a new president by both houses of parliament, the choice will be among Myint Swe, the other vice president, Henry Van Thio, who was elected by the upper house of parliament, and a third candidate to be put forward by the lower house, which had nominated Htin Kyaw.
Henry Van Thio is a member of the country’s Chin ethnic minority.
The strong majority held by Suu Kyi’s party allowed it to name Htin Kyaw president in 2016 and should put its new choice, whoever it may be, back in the job again.