Doubts are growing about Myanmar's political leadership

Key Points
  • Myanmar President Htin Kyaw's resignation raises doubts about the government's leadership, according to Bridget Welsh of John Cabot University.
  • The country's failure to halt the persecution of Rohingya Muslims has sparked global outrage.
Myanmar's next president likely to be 'another loyalist': Professor
Myanmar's next president likely to be 'another loyalist': Professor

The sudden resignation of Myanmar President Htin Kyaw is a worrying development for the country's future, according to one politics watcher, especially as a crescendo of criticism engulfs de-facto ruler Aung San Suu Kyi.

In a statement on Wednesday, Htin Kyaw's office said the 71 year-old was departing immediately "in order to take rest from the current duties and responsibilities." The outgoing leader is a close confidante of Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, whose ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party took power in a historic 2015 election.

Officially barred from the presidency due to a constitutional clause, Suu Kyi still rules the country though trusted proxies. Htin Kyaw's replacement is widely expected to be fellow NLD loyalist Win Myint, who is currently speaker of the lower house.

Htin Kyaw's resignation "brings to the fore the issue of leadership and who the successors are going to be in Myanmar moving forward," Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at John Cabot University, told CNBC at the Credit Suisse Asia Investment Conference.

The news raises questions in people's minds, she said.

There is now a sense that "the country is not necessarily moving in a more democratic direction," Welsh continued, referring to the rise of complex identity politics, reports of ethnic cleansing and the military's continued grip on power.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the Asia Society in New York on Sept. 21, 2016.
Ted Kemp | CNBC

Hopes were high for Suu Kyi's government to install democracy following decades of dictatorship, but it now faces international condemnation for failing to halt the brutal persecution of Rohingya Muslims by military forces and Buddhist extremists.

Violence against the minority group bears "the hallmarks of a genocide," according to Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special envoy on human rights in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi's inaction on the matter "reflects the fact that she's responding to the majority within her country who have views that [the Rohingya] are illegal migrants," Welsh explained.

Myanmar's Buddhist-majority population and army officials, who still wield hefty control over state affairs, have often labeled the Rohingya "terrorists" — claims that are supported by misleading news articles in state media.