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Myanmar picks junta’s PM as new president


YANGON, Myanmar >> Myanmar’s new parliament convened Friday to choose a president, with all indications pointing to the selection of Thein Sein, the junta’s outgoing prime minister.

The selection of a new government is the latest step in Myanmar’s so-called transition to democracy, which critics call a sham designed to cement military rule.

The military’s delegates in parliament and their civilian allies hold an 80 percent majority in the new legislature, which is handpicking the new president from a pool of three vice presidents named Thursday.

Thein Sein, 65, is the most prominent of the three, making him the most obvious candidate. He is a former general who served as the junta’s prime minister and heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in November’s general elections that much of the international community dismissed as rigged in favor of the junta.

Thein Sein also has an image as a “clean” soldier, not engaged in corruption. Still, as prime minister since October 2007 and the fourth ranking military leader in the junta, Thein Sein did not have much decision making power.

Junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe has wielded absolute power in the country since his rise to power in 1992. It is not clear what his role will be in the future, but he is expected to remain a dominant force no matter who becomes president.

Another senior junta leader, Tin Aung Myint Oo, was also selected as a vice president. He is a lieutenant general who, like Thein Sein, resigned his military post last year to run in November’s election.

The third pick for vice president is Sai Mauk Kham, an ethnic Shan doctor who runs a private clinic and is a member of the military-backed party. Sai Mauk Kham has not held prior political posts and is relatively unknown.

Under the 2008 constitution that came into force Monday with the opening of the Union Parliament, the president appoints the commander in chief, chief ministers of the regions and states, Cabinet ministers and also head the National Defense and Security Council.

The constitution says that the present military government will remain in power until the new government is formed. It was not clear when that would be, but many lawmakers believe it could happen by next week.

The vice president with the second highest number of votes from lawmakers will serve as acting president if the office of the president falls vacant due to his resignation, death or any other cause.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962. There has been general curiosity in Myanmar about who will become the next president, but there is also a widespread perception that the military cheated in the elections and that the new government will not bring democratic change.

The party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the last elections in 1990 but was blocked from taking power by the military, boycotted November’s vote, calling it unfair.


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