YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw resigned suddenly yesterday leaving the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi without a close confidant and political ally as she faces rising international opprobrium over the Rakhine crisis.
The president, an old school friend of Suu Kyi, served as her proxy in an office she was barred from occupying under Myanmar’s military-drafted constitution.
His role was largely ceremonial with Suu Kyi calling the shots within her civilian administration, under the self-appointed title of State Counsellor.
But he was nonetheless the country’s head of state and a key domestic ally for Suu Kyi within her party.
Myanmar’s Vice President Myint Swe, a retired general close to the former junta leader Than Shwe, will temporarily move into the role until a new president is in place, according to the constitution.
Observers say this will likely make some inside Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party queasy as, in theory, decisions could be pushed through – or held back – in this time.
Speculation had swirled for months about the health of Htin Kyaw, 72, who had recently lost weight and has had heart problems in the past.
“Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw resigned on March 21, 2018,” a statement on the president’s official Facebook page said.
His office did not give many details for why he resigned yesterday, only saying that “he wanted to take a rest from his current duty”.
It added that a new leader will be selected “within seven working days”.
Shortly after the announcement, Speaker of the Lower House and Suu Kyi ally Win Myint resigned from his position, narrowing his odds of taking up Myanmar’s top civilian office.
“Anyone she selects as president will be someone she has complete trust in,” said independent analyst Richard Horsey.
“That trust is the basis of her being the seat of power in Myanmar. She has no power under the constitution. Any power comes from that relationship with the president.”
Htin Kyaw, the country’s first civilian president since 1962, was widely respected and seen as unerringly devoted to Suu Kyi, who said she would rule “above” him after he was elected in 2016.
He has stood firmly by her side even as her reputation has been shredded internationally for not speaking up on behalf of the persecuted Rohingya community.