NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: A doctor, a one-time driver and a personal assistant head a motley ensemble of possible picks for Myanmar’s next president, as democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi seeks a close confidante to rule in her place.
Suu Kyi, 70, is barred from Myanmar’s presidency by a constitution that thwarts her ambition to lead the country away from decades of military rule.
Instead she has vowed to rule “above” the next leader, potentially adopting a system like India’s Sonia Gandhi, who wielded huge influence over her Congress party’s administrations despite having no official government role.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a resounding victory at last November’s elections — a direct endorsement for the Nobel laureate who is the shining star of the country’s democracy movement.
The NLD is due to nominate a candidate to replace outgoing President Thein Sein at a meeting in parliament on Thursday.
In total three names will be put forward — one selected from MPs in the lower and upper houses — and one from the unelected soldiers who are gifted a quarter of all seats under a charter they wrote.
But with just days to go before a selection, the public remains entirely in the dark about the candidates.
The uncertainty has stirred up a storm of speculation, with a list of possible figures including Suu Kyi’s former driver, her family doctor and her erstwhile personal assistant.
How the veteran activist, who is excluded from top office because she married and had children with a foreigner, will manage the relationship with a proxy president is also unclear.
“It is going to create huge problems,” said political analyst Khin Zaw Win, adding that the new president would always have to “look over his shoulder” for instructions from Suu Kyi.
“It is a very murky picture. (But) one of the bright things is at least a transition is taking place,” he told AFP.
Myanmar politics is haunted by memories of the NLD’s 1990 election victory, which was swatted away by the former junta who went on to rule for two more decades.
As the NLD closes ranks, presidential speculation has recently zoomed in on Htin Kyaw, a genial 69-year-old who acted as Suu Kyi’s driver during her brief spells of freedom from house arrest.
The son-in-law of the NLD’s late spokesman and a school friend of Suu Kyi, Htin Kyaw has long been a staunch ally and currently helps run her charitable foundation.
Others names doing the rounds include Tin Myo Win, her personal doctor during the long years of house arrest, Tin Oo, an octogenarian former general turned NLD veteran, and her personal assistant Tin Mar Aung, one of the few women who have been touted.
All are in their late sixties or above in a country where more than half the population is under 30.
But for Suu Kyi’s supporters, few are able to match her star power.
“We want Daw Suu to be our president, there is no other position that is suitable for her,” said Yangon tour company director Tun Tun Naing, using a term of respect.
In public Suu Kyi has repeatedly struck a conciliatory tone toward a military that kept her under house arrest for 15 years.
This focus on national reconciliation is expected to be reflected in a cabinet, announced by the NLD in the coming days, that will include figures from across the political spectrum.
It is not clear if Suu Kyi will join the executive, which under Myanmar’s web of political rules means she would have to relinquish her position as head of the NLD.
Expectations are running high from a public eager to grasp the change promised by Suu Kyi and her party in their election campaign.
Thein Sein, who took office in 2011, ushered in reforms that saw most junta-era sanctions lifted. Political and economic freedoms have begun to blossom.
Newly-imported cars now jostle on Yangon’s streets while farmers check once-banned social media on mobile phones that were previously the preserve of a tiny elite.
But formidable challenges lie ahead, including resuscitating long-neglected public services, infrastructure and improving the cloudy legal environment.
Suu Kyi will also need to work with the army in efforts to end decades of civil war in ethnic minority borderlands.