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Htin Kyaw, left, newly elected president of Myanmar, walks with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, right, at Myanmar's parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Myanmar's parliament elected Htin Kyaw as Myanmar's new president Tuesday, a watershed moment that ushers the longtime opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi into government.Aung Shine Oo/The Associated Press

For years, he was the silent face in the photos, a quiet confidant ignored behind the magnetic Aung San Suu Kyi.

Now Htin Kyaw will become Myanmar's first civilian president in a half-century, after the country's legislators confirmed the hand-picked choice of Myanmar's democracy icon, who is herself constitutionally barred from the post.

The Tuesday ballots for president in Myanmar's nascent legislature marked the latest historic step by a country rapidly moving out from its decades under a junta that plunged it into isolation and poverty. Mr. Htin Kyaw is expected to take office on April 1, placing him at the vanguard of Myanmar's pivot to more open democratic rule.

But in some ways, his ascension does little to bring him out of the background he has long occupied. Ms. Suu Kyi has said she will instead occupy a position above the president, who will become a proxy for her – the awkward setup a reminder of the distance Myanmar remains from achieving long-held dreams of a fully functioning democratic system.

Mr. Htin Kyaw confirmed as much, pledging his loyalty to Ms. Suu Kyi on Tuesday.

"Today's result is because of the love of people for her. It is the victory of my sister Aung San Suu Kyi," he told Reuters.

It was, after all, Ms. Suu Kyi – known to some as "Daw Suu," or "Mother Suu" – who led her National League for Democracy to a sweeping electoral win in November, with her party taking 390 upper and lower house seats, compared to just 41 for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Mr. Htin Kyaw will "be incredibly loyal, and will see himself first and foremost as a friend, confidant and aide to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," said Thant Myint-U, a prominent Myanmarese historian and political commentator.

An aide is not how one typically describes a president, and "how that mixes with the day-to-day functions of the presidency, and how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will choose to wield power through him, only time will tell," Mr. Thant Myint-U said.

Derek Mitchell, the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, recently called the arrangement "a strange governmental structure," particularly since both the President and Ms. Suu Kyi must also share the stage with the military, which occupies a quarter of legislative seats and names three of the government's most powerful ministers.

With its large corporate holdings, the military continues to exert heavy economic sway. Under the current parliamentary structure it also maintains effective veto power over constitutional changes, like those needed to allow Ms. Suu Kyi herself to become president.

The military choice in a presidential candidate, Myint Swe, suggests a tough path to reconciliation. Mr. Myint Swe once led the country's military intelligence arm, an agency with a history of arresting democratic protesters and, according to human-rights organizations, torturing them. The former general remains blacklisted by the United States, which bars business with people considered cronies of the former junta.

But on Tuesday, he received the second-highest number of votes among legislators, making him the country's first vice-president.

Ms. Suu Kyi's success in coming years will be in part "a matter of personalities; it's a matter of Daw Suu and the new president working with the military to build trust," Mr. Mitchell said in a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, an influential Yangon-based publication. "Nothing is easy in this country. It has its own way of developing. It never takes the path you hope it'd take going forward. But that doesn't mean it can't work."

And many observers called Mr. Htin Kyaw a solid pick for Ms. Suu Kyi, dubbed "The Lady" by many in her country.

"Under the circumstances, this is the best choice for The Lady," said U Thiha Saw, a veteran local journalist who described the president-elect as a respectable figure who has been a close aide to Ms. Suu Kyi "almost from the beginning."

"He was always beside her, whether she was under house arrest or was travelling."

Mr. Htin Kyaw comes from a family with long-standing ties to the country's democracy movement. His father-in-law was a co-founder of the NLD party that Ms. Suu Kyi now leads, and his wife is a member of parliament. His father, an Oxford-educated poet, was close friends with U Thant, the late secretary-general of the United Nations who also sought democracy in his own country.

A childhood friend of Ms. Suu Kyi, Mr. Htin Kyaw studied computer science in the U.K. and returned to Myanmar as a bureaucrat working in foreign economic relations. He quit government in 1992, and became one of the few people in Ms. Suu Kyi's inner circle after the military regime placed her under house arrest.

Now, standing alongside her, he will be tasked with leading a country freighted with problems, from deep poverty to difficult relations with China and a political system that remains entrenched in the past.

As just one example, "the judiciary is not really independent. That may be at the top of their priority list," said Mr. U Thiha Saw.

"I think the main challenge, not just for him but of the ruling party, will be to create all kinds of circumstances for democratic society."

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