YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's navy chief was sworn in on Wednesday as the second of the country's two vice-presidents, filling a post vacated by a hard-line ex-general who stepped down in July due to ill health.
Admiral Nyan Tun, who is in his late 50s, gave up his four-year command of the navy to take the oath of office before Myanmar's fledgling parliament, state television reported, after his nomination by military lawmakers.
The role of the vice-presidents has been largely ceremonial, so it is unclear what influence Nyan Tun might have on policy, although he will sit on bodies such as the National Defence and Security Council and the Finance Commission.
Several people who knew Nyan Tun, including some who had worked under him, described him as a political moderate.
The government is stacked with retired military, including President Thein Sein himself, but it has embarked on rapid reforms since he took office in March 2011 after 49 years of authoritarian army rule.
The appointment of Nyan Tun follows an unexplained, month-long gap since the retirement of predecessor Tin Aung Myint Oo, a conservative widely seen as an opponent of the quasi-civilian government's political and economic liberalization drive.
On July 10, legislators nominated former military intelligence chief Myint Swe to replace him, but that nomination was quietly dropped. No official explanation has been given but according to some reports his son is married to a foreigner and that made him ineligible under the constitution.
The relevant clause in the army-drafted constitution was widely seen as a way of stopping Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose late husband, Michael Aris, was British, from assuming high office. It has not stopped her from becoming a member of parliament, however.
Several military sources, who were not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters that parliament's armed forces representatives had put forward other candidates before Nyan Tun, but they all fell afoul of various restrictions in the constitution.
Like many military leaders, Nyan Tun graduated from the elite Defence Services Academy and as navy chief made a number of official trips abroad.
Nyan Tun was the best choice because he could advise President Thein Sein on regional security matters, said a Southeast Asian military attaché, who requested anonymity.
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Andrew R.C. Marshall; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel)