Myan­mar’s newly ap­pointed Pres­i­dent Win Myint may have fresh plans for the coun­try’s fu­ture

Newly anointed Pres­i­dent Win Myint’s stri­dent talk of amend­ing Myan­mar’s military-drafted con­sti­tu­tion has set the for­mer speaker on a col­li­sion course with the na­tion’s most heav­ily en­trenched interests

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - – Paul Mil­lar WIN MYINT


Born on the Ir­rawaddy Delta just three years af­ter his na­tion de­clared its in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish in 1948, Win Myint’s own foray into po­lit­i­cal life came in 1988 when the then-bar­ris­ter was swept up in the na­tion­wide prodemoc­racy protests against Gen­eral Ne Win’s one-party rule. Join­ing the Na­tional League for Democ­racy, the young lawyer’s early elec­toral success was marred by a se­ries of ar­rests by the military govern­ment – even forc­ing the bud­ding politi­cian to miss his crit­i­cally ill son’s death and funeral for re­fus­ing to sign a promis­sory note re­nounc­ing po­lit­i­cal life.


Fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Htin Kyaw’s re­tire­ment in March af­ter long-run­ning ru­mours of ill health, Win Myint – who had been serv­ing as speaker of the house – was elected by the par­lia­ment as the na­tion’s new pres­i­dent. A close ally of state coun­sel­lor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who re­mains barred from the pres­i­dency by Myan­mar’s military-drafted con­sti­tu­tion, Myint is the first pres­i­dent in decades not to have ties with the na­tion’s mighty armed forces. De­spite hold­ing what is largely seen as a cer­e­mo­nial role, Myint’s pledge to amend the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion may be the mark of a man with grander de­signs than his ail­ing pre­de­ces­sor.


With the con­sti­tu­tion still man­dat­ing military con­trol of a quar­ter of par­lia­men­tary seats and ab­so­lute dominance over the na­tion’s se­cu­rity forces – the prime driv­ers of the dev­as­tat­ing Ro­hingya cri­sis for which Suu Kyi has borne so much in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion – the fact that Myint made a point of promis­ing con­sti­tu­tional change is promis­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Khin Zaw Win, di­rec­tor of pol­icy ad­vo­cacy group the Tam­padipa In­sti­tute, though, Myan­mar’s new pres­i­dent may well lack the autonomy to pur­sue this prom­ise to the fullest. “To those who are ask­ing, he will be for­ever Aung San Suu Kyi’s hench­man,” he told AP. “I don’t ex­pect much change in the pres­i­dency, un­less Win Myint puts the coun­try’s interests be­fore Aung San Suu Kyi’s and that of the military.”


With Suu Kyi dogged by sug­ges­tions of fail­ing health – she had to can­cel a much-an­tic­i­pated ap­pear­ance in Aus­tralia dur­ing the Asean sum­mit ear­lier this year – Myint’s close ties to the woman once her­alded as Myan­mar’s great demo­cratic hope may sig­nal that the newly minted pres­i­dent is more than just a loy­al­ist stooge. “[The military] must be pre­pared to deal with a more am­bi­tious pres­i­dent,” China-based Myan­mar an­a­lyst Liu Yun told the South China Morn­ing Post. “Win Myint will lead this coun­try not only as a pres­i­dent em­pow­ered by the con­sti­tu­tion, but also a suc­ces­sor to ‘the Lady’.”

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