THE president of Burma (Myanmar) has stepped down with immediate effect, saying he is “taking a rest” following health issues.
Htin Kyaw’s office announced the resignation office in a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday. According to the country’s constitution, the more senior of two vice presidents will stand in as president until a new leader is elected by parliament within seven working days.
Under this ruling, the military’s appointment for vice-president Myint Swe will become acting president. The ex-military officer oversaw the brutal crackdown of the Saffron revolution while leading the Yangon Command in 2007.
Htin Kyaw was an important ally in the government for state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as being friends since childhood. His role was mostly ceremonial as Suu Kyi has acted as the country’s de facto leader since 2016 after the National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the country’s first election since military rule.
Suu Kyi is unable to take the office of president as the constitution bars anyone with foreign relatives. Both of the Nobel laureates sons are British.
The resignation of Suu Kyi’s closest confidante comes at a precarious time for Burma and the de facto leader, who is under increasing pressure from the international community to speak out against the brutal crackdown carried out by the military in Rakhine state.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug 25. The United Nations has called the campaign of violence – which witnesses have said included mass killings, gang rape and burning people alive – a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Reports that Htin Kyaw had been experiencing ill health in the past few months had been vigorously denied by the government. However, on Wednesday the state counsellor’s office said he was stepping down to recuperate after undergoing multiple treatments and surgery.
Government spokesperson Zaw Htay told the Guardian: “Yes, he has resigned. He just had an operation but it was successful. We will now start the process for electing the next president within seven working days according to the constitution.”
Htin Kyaw’s permanent replacement will be voted in from a selection of names put forward by lawmakers. At least one of these must chosen by the military, which retains a quarter of seats in parliament.
Likely contenders for nomination include popular MP and close ally of Suu Kyi, Zaw Myint Maung, and current speaker of the house of representatives, Win Myint.
As the presidency officially holds full executive authority, for Aung San Suu Kyi to retain the power she currently has, a personal pact would have to be reached between herself and the successful nominee.