As he stood beside Aung San Suu Kyi at the gates of her mansion celebrating her release from house arrest in 2010, Htin Kyaw likely never imagined he would be named to rule in her place.
The affable 69-year-old university teacher, who was a school friend of the democracy veteran and once acted as her driver, was nominated by her National League for Democracy (NLD) Thursday to be Myanmar’s next president.
Suu Kyi is banned from the presidency by the army-drafted constitution but has pledged to rule “above” her appointee.
While little is known of the practicalities of the arrangement, the nomination demonstrates her faith in Htin Kyaw’s absolute loyalty to act as her proxy.
It also suggests she 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 son of well-regarded poet and veteran NLD member Min Thu Wun, Htin Kyaw is a soft-spoken economics graduate whose life, like Suu Kyi’s, has been entwined with Myanmar’s democracy struggle.
He has long been part of Suu Kyi’s inner circle while his wife Su Su Lwin is a sitting NLD MP whose late father was once party spokesman.
In a varied career Htin Kyaw worked as a university teacher and also held positions in the industry and foreign affairs ministries in the late 1970s and 80s before retiring from government service as the military tightened its grip.
He is currently a senior executive in Suu Kyi’s charity, the Daw Khin Kyi foundation named after her mother, which provides development aid and skills training to Suu Kyi’s Kawhmu constituency and other areas of the impoverished country.
In an interview with AFP about the foundation’s work in July 2015, Htin Kyaw spoke of the steep climb Myanmar faced to claw its way out of poverty and the shadow of the junta years.
“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.
His elevation to the presidency is a near forgone conclusion.
Myanmar’s two houses of parliament will vote on who becomes president in the coming days. Both are dominated by Suu Kyi’s party.