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Will vice president's exit boost Myanmar's reform efforts?

By Vanessa Ko, for CNN
updated 3:06 AM EDT, Fri July 6, 2012
Myanmar's vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo (C) has resigned as of July 1.
Myanmar's vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo (C) has resigned as of July 1.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tin Aung Myint Oo, Myanmar's first vice president, resigned, citing health reasons
  • He is known as a hardliner who did not agree with President Thein Sein's reform agenda
  • Observers believe a cabinet reshuffle could increase the pace of reform
  • Some attribute a slow pace of reformation to the administration's conservative faction

Hong Kong (CNN) -- The resignation of Myanmar's first vice president could pave the way for the introduction of more reformers into President Thein Sein's government, experts say.

The departure of Tin Aung Myint Oo was announced by the government on Wednesday. An official statement said he was in Singapore receiving treatment for a medical condition.

Myanmar's VP resigns for health reasons

A former general with close ties to Myanmar's retired dictator, Than Shwe, Tin has long been viewed by observers as a hardliner who did not agree with the president's reform agenda -- and the vacated cabinet spot presents an opportunity for a change of direction.

"A lot of people are hoping that the president will have time to choose a more moderate vice president, perhaps one who sees eye to eye with him to move the reform process forward," said Aung Zaw, the editor of Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine, which covers Myanmar news.

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In April, Britain's Financial Times reported that several conservative leaders in Myanmar -- including the vice president -- were in danger of being replaced.

Thein Sein has been praised for the country's dramatic changes over the past year, most notably with elections that introduced pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party to Parliament. But Myanmar watchers lament the slow pace of change, which some attribute to the administration's conservative faction, led by Tin.

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With his resignation, observers believe a cabinet reshuffle could increase the pace of reform, especially long-awaited economic legislation, following a recent suspension of sanctions against Myanmar by the United States and the European Union.

The Foreign Investment Law is meant to encourage overseas businesses to invest in the country by protecting their legal rights. The finalization of the law, however, has met with an unexplained delay.

Aung Zaw said the current administration as ineffective, filled with people who do not work well together or talk to each other, and are resistant to change. If Thein Sein does not remove a few such ministers from his government, he said, the president risks undoing the progress that has been made so far.

Yet it is not wholly up to the president to fill the empty seat -- far from it. According to Myanmar law, the new vice president will again be a member of the armed forces, nominated by the Parliament's military members.

Even so, the armed forces' nomination will likely be a joint decision along with the rest of Parliament and the president.

"There will be a lot of pre-dialogue and discussions; there are already ongoing discussions," he said. "I think they already have chosen a person, but the final decision hasn't come out yet because it's quite secretive at the moment.

"Governments who watch Burma carefully, I think, will be quietly relieved that the vice president is gone," he added, using the other name for Myanmar.

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