By Joseph Allchin
Incumbent Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein, has been appointed the country’s new president.
The announcement was made today on the fifth day of the new parliament. Thein Sein was earlier this week appointed vice president along with two others; a triumvirate out of which the new president was selected.
Despite rumours of serious ill health and an apparent desire not to be appointed to high office, the retired military general will take the country’s top position.
He took office as prime minister in October 2007, initially as an interim whilst his ailing predecessor, Soe Win, was hospitalised with leukaemia. Soe Win’s subsequent death opened the door for Thein Sein.
After taking office Thein Sein was given a full general’s rank and became known as Mr Clean, a result of not being encumbered by the corruption allegations that have dogged many high-ranking Burmese politicians.
His main rival for the post, Tin Aung Myint Oo, was contrastingly known as a crooked player, and was recently involved in a spat over the ownership of flag carrier Myanmar Airway International.
But the 65-year-old Thein Sein became the ‘acceptable’ face of the military regime in international forums, while his senior, Than Shwe, maintained a reclusive lifestyle.
He relinquished his military position last year in order to head the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). This had evolved from the junta’s so-called “civilian wing”, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which has been widely blamed for acts of intimidation and political harassment.
What will become of junta supremo Than Shwe is unclear, but he has ruled himself out of a physical presence in Burma’s new political system. His close relationship with Thein Sein however was likely the driving force behind his appointment as president.
Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo told AFP that, “Anything is possible if Than Shwe leaves. Maybe now Thein Sein is considered a very loyal ‘yes man’ but soon he will have to find his own way”.
Indeed his loyalty won him plaudits from the military’s top brass after the deposition of ex-prime minister Khin Nyunt, whom analysts claim was too ambitious and influential for Than Shwe to stomach.
Supporting Thein Sein will be two vice presidents, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Sai Mouk Kham. The three are all members of the USDP, while Sai Mouk Kham, an ethnic Shan politician, is the only one not to hail from a military background.
It is the military’s dominance of parliament that has led critics to pour scorn over pre-election pledges that Burma will come under civilian rule.