Myanmar's newly-elected president Htin Kyaw may be little known outside his homeland but for Aung San Suu Kyi — who plucked her school friend and longtime aide from the political sidelines to be her proxy — it is Htin Kyaw's loyalty that is paramount.
The 69-year-old was comfortably elected as Myanmar's first civilian president since 1962 on Tuesday, a position he will hold in place of the Nobel laureate who is banned from top office by the army-drafted constitution.
The son of a revered poet, who has helped run Suu Kyi's charitable foundation in recent years, Htin Kyaw is billed as someone with a high level of education, personal standing and absolute trustworthiness to 'The Lady'.
Yet, he remains an unknown and untested quantity with many asking how much influence he will wield over a government he will only nominally lead. Moreover, in a complex political system, where the military still wields considerable influence, his powers could be overshadowed.
Htin Kyaw's appointment suggests Suu Hyi thinks he has sufficient pedigree in the country's long struggle against junta rule to be embraced by the millions of voters who swept to the polls in November to validate her star power and simple message of change.
The situation is not unlike that of India in 2004, when Manmohan Singh was appointed the Prime Minister of India, after the Congress president Sonia Gandhi declined to take up the post, despite the parties win nationwide. Similarly, Suu Kyi, who has led her party – the National League for Democracy (NLD) — through a landslide win, is not eligible for the post. As reported by ABC, according to chapter 3, no 59(f) of the constitution, the president must be someone who "he himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power".
"[They shall] not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country ... [or] be persons entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign government or citizen of a foreign country," it states. Hence, Suu Kyi whose two sons are British citizens, cannot become president.
Htin Kyaw is believed to have joined the party last year — although the NLD has not confirmed exactly when.
Nonetheless the soft-spoken economics graduate's life has been entwined with Myanmar's democracy struggle and Suu Kyi's movement.
His father Min Thu Wun, was a national poet and early NLD member who who won a seat in the 1990 elections. He is also the son-in-law of a co-founder of the NLD and former party spokesman. His wife Su Su Lwin is a new NLD MP who chairs the parliament’s international relations committee.
"He's not just anybody, he comes from a very political family," said Bertil Lintner, a veteran Myanmar commentator.
Right hand man
His inner circle closeness to Suu Kyi was illustrated in 2010 when the Nobel Laureate was finally released from years of house arrest.
As she greeted jubilant crowds from behind the gate of her crumbling Yangon mansion, Htin Kyaw stood to her right.
During those heady but often unsure times when Suu Kyi remained under intense military scrutiny, he could sometimes be seen at the wheel of her car, shuttling her between high-level meetings. Hence he got labelled as 'the driver'.
For the last four years he has been a senior executive in Suu Kyi's charity — Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, which provides development aid and skills training to her Kawhmu constituency and other areas of the impoverished country.
In an interview about the charity's work in July 2015, Htin Kyaw spoke of the steep climb Myanmar faced to claw its way out of poverty.
"You see that we are doing a lot, which means we need a lot. We are just doing only a very small portion of what is required for the nation," he said.
According to a report by Voice of America he graduated from English Methodist High School in 1962, which later became Dagon High School No. 1. He attended Rangoon University for a major in Arts, after which he attended the Institute of Economics and obtained his Masters in Economics (Statistics) and passed out in 1968. In 1971, he attended the Institute of Computer Science University, London.
In a varied career, he worked as a university teacher and also held positions in the finance and national planning and foreign affairs ministries in the late 1970s and 80s before retiring from government service as the military tightened its grip. According to a report by The Telegraph, he is also a writer, who writes under the pen name of Dala Ban (a Mon warrior).
According to the report by Voice of America, he was arrested on 22 September and he spent four months in Insein prison. He was detained with nine other activists at the Rangoon railway station, while helping Aung San Suu Kyi, who planned to make a trip to Mandalay at that time.
With input from agencies