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Aung San Suu Kyi was Thursday finally ruled out of the running to become Myanmar's next president, as her party nominated one of her most loyal aides to rule the formerly junta-run nation as her proxy.
Suu Kyi has vowed to rule "above" the president, despite being barred from the top office by an army-scripted constitution, as she strives to fulfil the huge mandate delivered by millions of voters in her National League for Democracy's landslide election victory in November.
Many in Myanmar had clung to faint hopes that the 70-year-old democracy campaigner could still head the country's first civilian government in decades, but months of talks with the powerful military failed to remove the legal obstacles in her way.
At a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, Htin Kyaw, a genial 69-year-old economics graduate who now helps run Suu Kyi's charitable foundation, was named as one of the party's two presidential candidates.
He is widely seen as the anointed person to rule in her place as president when incumbent Thein Sein ends his five-year term at the end of March.
The NLD also nominated ethnic Chin MP Henry Van Theu, a law graduate, as a presidential candidate from the upper house. He is expected to become vice president.
The announcements end months of fevered speculation, as the party kept tight-lipped to avoid upsetting a delicate political transition in a nation where the military still casts a long shadow.
Suu Kyi spoke to MPs in Naypyidaw late Thursday at a closed-door meeting that was partially overheard by throngs of journalists outside.
"I believe people will like our chosen presidential nominees," she said.
- 'Important step' -
Observers welcomed the choice.
"I think he's probably the best fit for the job, someone of proven and longstanding loyalty to (Suu Kyi) and also a person of considerable standing in his own right," Myanmar historian and political analyst Thant Myint-U told AFP.
Myanmar's next government faces soaring expectations in the country of 51 million eager to see further changes as it shakes off the shackles of junta rule and international isolation.
"This is an important step in implementing the desires and expectations of voters who enthusiastically supported the NLD," Suu Kyi said in a statement on her party website earlier.
Htin Kyaw's official confirmation may take days, though should be a forgone conclusion because of the NLD's comfortable parliamentary majority.
Parliament's lower and upper houses will confirm one candidate each on Friday.
Their eligibility will then be assessed by a parliamentary committee before a final vote possibly next week that will also include a nomination from the military, which controls a quarter of the legislature.
This will determine the president, leaving the other two as vice presidents.
Even MPs from the army-backed United Solidarity and Development Party seemed to accept Htin Kyaw.
"I think personally that he is a suitable person," USDP lower house MP Hla Htay Win told AFP, adding that the party's own nominees "have their abilities".
- Long-time friend -
Myanmar's democracy movement runs in the family for Htin Kyaw, an affable former schoolmate of Suu Kyi's, who stood at her side when she was released from house arrest in 2010 and was once her driver.
His father was a legendary writer and he is married to sitting NLD MP Su Su Lwin, whose late father was the party's respected spokesman.
Neither Htin Kyaw nor his wife attended parliament on Thursday.
Myanmar's former ruling generals held Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years and swatted away the NLD's 1990 election landslide.
Suu Kyi, barred from top political office because she married and had children with a foreigner, has not outlined what her future role will be.
Some have suggested she could mimic India's Sonia Gandhi, who wielded huge influence over her Congress party's administration despite having no official government role.
There has also been speculation that she could take the role of foreign minister, giving her a cabinet post and a seat at the country's influential military-dominated Security Council, though that would also force her to step down from her party role.
Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government ushered in a raft of political and economic reforms, but his successor is faced with improving long-neglected social services and infrastructure, while tackling a graft saturated bureaucracy.