By Timothy Mclaughlin and Hnin Yadana Zaw
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD) proposed a close friend of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as its presidential candidate on Thursday, ending a four-month wait for the identity of the president expected to rule in her name.
The NLD nominated Htin Kyaw, who joined the party just two months ago, as its lower house candidate. Thanks to the party's crushing majority, that makes him near-certain to become titular head of the country's first democratically elected government since the army seized power in 1962 when the full parliament votes next week.
The wildly popular Suu Kyi and the NLD won a landslide electoral victory in November, but she is barred from holding the presidency herself under a junta-drafted 2008 constitution because her children are not Myanmar citizens.
Suu Kyi has said that she would run the country regardless through a proxy. Until Thursday, she and the NLD leadership had kept the identity of their nominee a closely guarded secret even from rank-and-file MPs.
Htin Kyaw runs a charity founded by Suu Kyi and has been a trusted member of her inner circle since the mid-1990s. He is not a lawmaker.
NLD central executive committee member Han Tha Myint confirmed to Reuters that Htin Kyaw was the party's preferred presidential candidate.
Suu Kyi told NLD lawmakers at a meeting after the nomination that she had considered the loyalty and discipline of Htin Kyaw and other candidates before making her choice.
"I believe the people will be happy about the results," she said. "We'd like to form a government which is transparent."
Candidates needed to be able to command the respect of both the domestic and international community, she added.
"I'm very happy," said lower house NLD lawmaker Myint Myint Soe. "I believe our leader Aung San Suu Kyi chose the right people for these positions. I know U Htin Kyaw personally and I think he is a nice person."
In an earlier statement, released before the nomination was revealed, Suu Kyi had urged patience from her supporters.
"The NLD is determined to meet people's expectations and will do its best," she said.
Under Myanmar's indirect system for electing a president, three candidates are nominated - one by the lower house, one by the upper house, and one by the military bloc in parliament, who under the constitution hold a quarter of seats in both houses.
After the candidates have been vetted by a parliamentary commission, both houses will come together to vote in a joint session, with the winner elected president and the two losing nominees becoming vice presidents.Suu Kyi told NLD lawmakers late on Thursday that the presidential vote would take place on March 15.
Because the NLD has a comfortable majority in both chambers it effectively controls two of the nominations.
The NLD nominated Henry Van Thio, a member of the Chin ethnic group from Chin state in the country's northwest bordering India and Bangladesh, as its candidate from the upper house.
The party wants Van Thio to become a vice president to represent the country's myriad ethnic minorities, said executive committee member Han Tha Myint.
That is in line with Suu Kyi's goal of forming a government for national reconciliation. She hopes to end conflict between state forces and numerous armed ethnic groups in the country.
"I am happy and honored personally, as well as a Chin ethnic, to be selected to do the highest duty for our country," Van Thio said as he left parliament. "We, the ethnic people, will do our best for every sector in the nation-building process."
The military has yet to make its nomination public. Local media have named Thet Swe, a former navy chief who stepped down last year to run in the election representing the far flung Coco Islands, as one of the possible nominees. The armed forces bloc of MPs, who will make their nomination separately, were not present at the parliament building on Thursday.
The president picks the cabinet that will take over from President Thein Sein's outgoing government on April 1, with the exception of the heads of the home, defense and border security ministries who will be appointed by the armed forces chief.
(Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski and Swan Pyae Win Naing; Editing by Simon Webb and Alex Richardson)