Former army intelligence head set to be Myanmar VP: sources

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2012 8:32 AM
Former army intelligence head set to be Myanmar VP: sources

YANGON (Reuters) - A former head of military intelligence has been nominated to become a vice-president of Myanmar, parliamentary sources said on Tuesday, a move that disappointed some supporters of reform but which analysts said should not derail the process.

Myint Swe was believed to have been close to former dictator Than Shwe, head of the military junta that ruled Myanmar until March 2011, when a quasi-civilian government took over under President Thein Sein.

Despite being stuffed with former generals, it quickly launched political and economic reforms, and this latest nomination seems unlikely to derail or even slow the pace, analysts say.

The post is understood to have little influence on policy-making and was previously occupied by a hardliner, Tin Aung Myint Oo, a former member of the junta, who has resigned.

A Yangon businessman who once had to work closely with Myint Swe as a member of the Chamber of Commerce gave an even-handed assessment: "I am sure Myint Swe will not be an obstacle to Thein Sein's reforms at all, even though he may not become a reinforcement to him ... He is quite different from his predecessor, Tin Aung Myint Oo."

A quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for serving military personnel, which puts forward one of the two vice-presidents. One source from this bloc in the assembly said there was some surprise at the nomination.

"We think the decision must have come from former Senior General Than Shwe, who is generally considered his mentor," he said, asking not to be identified.

During his army career, Myint Swe was head of special operations in Yangon at the time of a monk-led uprising in 2007 that was brutally put down by the military authorities.

He reached the rank of lieutenant-general before stepping down - like many senior members of the former military regime - and running as a civilian for the army-backed party that won the November 2010 elections, which were widely seen as rigged.

He is now chief minister of Yangon division, a top position in the former capital, still the main commercial hub.

He attracted attention during sectarian unrest in Rakhine state in June when he warned journalists they risked prison if they used language that incited violence, seen as a setback for press freedom just as censorship was starting to be lifted.

One businessman, who declined to be named, was disappointed at the proposed appointment.

"Frankly, we would like to see someone else replace the outgoing vice-president. I mean someone who would be able to reinforce President Thein Sein in the complicated reform process," he said.

Sean Turnell, an economist at Macquarie University in Sydney who follows Myanmar, said the disappointment was natural but this development was not necessarily a setback.

"All the reformers have to take into account the military, so to some extent the military getting something is part of the politics of the place," he said.

He doubted the reforms would stall because of this appointment.

"It's a very critical time at the moment and there's a number of big reform bills but I can't imagine this will derail that."

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Additional reporting by Thu Rein Hlaing in Naypyitaw and Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Ed Lane)