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Myanmar Swears in First Civilian Head of State Since 1962

  • VOA News

New leader Htin Kyaw is a childhood friend and longtime confidant of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has sworn in its first civilian head of state in more than five decades.

Seventy-year-old Htin Kyaw took the oath of office Wednesday during a brief ceremony before a joint session of parliament, pledging loyalty "to the republic of the union of Myanmar." The country's two vice presidents, Myint Swe and Henry Van Tio, took the oath alongside Htin Kyaw.

Htin Kyaw's swearing in formally marks the end of total or partial military rule in Myanmar dating back to 1962. He succeeds Thein Sein, a former general who took power in 2011 when the junta turned over control to a quasi-civilian government and pushed through sweeping political and economic reforms.

"It's not the full democracy we might have hoped for, of course, because the military still has a very strong role in the country and in the economy," Sean Turnell of Australia's Macquarie University, a veteran analyst of Myanmar politics, tells VOA. "So it's not democracy in full measure, but it's democracy in large measure, so it's a very special day."

Constitutional changes

In his inaugural speech, the new president vowed to change the current constitution into one that fully embraces democratic standards. The constitution — drafted by the military before it turned over power — ensured the military 25 percent of all parliamentary seats, as well as the key ministerial posts of home affairs and defense.

Aung San Suu Kyi, center, shakes hands with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing after the presidential handover ceremony in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

Aung San Suu Kyi, center, shakes hands with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing after the presidential handover ceremony in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

The constitution also barred democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, due to a provision that prohibits anyone with a foreign-born spouse or children from the office. Her late husband and two sons are British.

Ruling through Htin Kyaw

But the Nobel Peace laureate has vowed to rule Myanmar through Htin Kyaw, her childhood friend and longtime confidant. She will also serve as one of 18 members in the new president's Cabinet, and is expected to simultaneously hold the ministries of foreign affairs, education, energy and the president's office.

"She's going to be very much behind the scenes, as well, even beyond the portfolio," Turnell says. "But the portfolio is extremely important anyway. I think it's important that she grab those posts, particularly in terms of foreign affairs. There's a technical reason, because that gives her access to the National Security Council, which in many ways is the most powerful body in Myanmar."

Htin Kyaw's election as president on March 15 was a foregone conclusion, as the National League for Democracy won overwhelming control of both chambers of parliament in November's historic elections.

VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this report.

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