Myanmar’s presidential election yesterday ended with victory for Htin Kyaw and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) as he claimed the majority of the votes cast by Myanmar’s two houses of parliament.

This effectively ends Myanmar’s more than 50-year rule under its military, in which authorities cracked down on protesters, killing them throughout its reign.

Out of the total of 652 votes cast, Kyaw earned 360 while the military’s candidate Myint Swe earned 213 votes. Kyaw’s running mate Henry Van Tio received 79 votes. Swe and Tio will assume the first and second vice president positions respectively.

The victory comes as the capstone to the decades-long battle from democracy that started when the military assumed rule in 1962. In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, returning from the UK to care for her ailing mother, spoke out against the military and called for democracy. She then was placed under house arrest for 21 years.

During her imprisonment she became a Nobel laureate and founded the NLD, culminating with her election in 2012 as a member of Myanmar’s legislature. Her struggle for democracy in Myanmar made her a popular icon of democracy, creating protests both from the international community and in Myanmar to have her released.

After decades of protests from both the international community and within, the military gradually loosened its grip on power through rewriting the constitution in 2008 and allowing multi-party elections in 2010. Although declared fraudulent by the international community, the 2010 multi-party elections gave way to a shift of power to the NLD two years later. The latest general election last year lead to a NLD-majority legislature, which paved the way for Kyaw’s ascendency to presidency.

Htin Kyaw is a writer and Oxford graduate who runs the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, named after Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother, that focuses on the poor of Myanmar. His father is the famous poet Min Thu Wun who won the 1990 general election during the decades-old battle for democracy in Myanmar. His wife, Su Su Lwin, is the daughter of an NLD founder and holds a prominent position in Myanmar’s legislative branch. Kyaw’s humble and soft-spoken demeanor has made him popular among NLD supporters.

Perhaps what is the most striking is when he claimed his victory to be “Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory," leading to speculation that he would act as her proxy, meaning in essence Aung San Suu Kyi would be in control of the Burmese government. She and Kyaw are very close since they met as high school classmates, with Kyaw occasionally being her driver and close confidant for many years. Kyaw was also jailed with nine other activists for four months in 2000 for helping Aung San Suu Kyi escape to Mandalay.

Aung San Suu Kyi cannot assume the presidency due to Myanmar’s constitution forbidding any Burmese with foreign-born spouses or children to become president.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s close friend elected Burmese president" (Taipei Times)
“Who Is Htin Kyaw, Myanmar’s Newly Elected President?" (Voice of America)
“Myanmar officially ends a half-century of military rule" (USA Today)
“Myanmar elects Htin Kyaw as first civilian president in decades" (BBC)