Historic vote begins in Myanmar parliament for new president

Naypyitaw: Myanmar's parliament voted today to elect the country's new president, a watershed moment that will usher the longtime opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi into government. Htin Kyaw, 70, a longtime confidant of Suu Kyi, is expected to become the country's first democratically elected leader after more than half a century of military rule.

The new president takes office on April 1, following Tuesday's vote by 652 members of parliament. Five lawmakers were absent from the 657-seat bicameral legislature. Htin Kyaw is among three final candidates whose names appeared on the ballot.

Given the lawmakers lack of experience with voting, the parliament speaker opened the session by explaining how to vote. "On the ballot paper, there are three names. If you support one of the names, you tick it or if you object cross it out," speaker Mann Win Khaing Than told the lawmakers.

"That's how you have to vote. And then put it in the ballot box." Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy party to a sweeping victory in Nov. 8 elections, a reflection of the widespread public support she earned during her decades-long struggle for democracy in Myanmar which was ruled for half a century by a military junta.

The Nobel laureate and longtime political prisoner is the party's unquestionable leader but is blocked from becoming president because of a constitutional clause that excludes anyone with a foreign spouse or children. Suu Kyi's two sons are British, as was her late husband. The clause is widely seen as having been written by the military with Suu Kyi in mind.

To assume the top post in her place, the NLD nominated Suu Kyi's trusted friend and adviser Htin Kyaw, the son of a national poet and the son-in-law of a founding member of the country's pro-democracy movement.

Myanmar's electoral system requires that the president be chosen from candidates put forward by each of the two houses of parliament, and a third nominee from the military, which retains a quarter of the legislative seats.

The candidate with the most votes becomes president and the other two become vice presidents. The other nominees are NLD lawmaker Henry Van Tio and the military's candidate, Myint Swe, a hard-line retired lieutenant general whose nomination raised concerns about the future of a power-sharing relationship with the NLD.

Myint Swe is seen as a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe and remains on a US State Department blacklist that bars American companies from doing business with several tycoons and senior military figures connected with the former junta.

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