Myanmar's new vice president 'disappoints' reformers

Myint Swee (R) with the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (C) and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi on 28 April, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Myanmar military nominates former general Myint Swe as vice president
  • Nomination has disappointed observers hoping for someone more open to reform
  • Myint is considered fiercely loyal to the military, a prodigy of former dictator Than Shwe
  • President Thein Sein has introduced a number of democratic reforms since taking power

Myanmar's military leaders have nominated a former general considered fiercely loyal to former dictator Senior General Than Shwe to be the country's next vice president.

Myint Swe's expected promotion from chief minister of Rangoon Region to the second highest post in the country has disappointed observers who hoped for a more reform-friendly candidate.

"The military chose someone who they can count on," said Aung Zaw, editor of Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine which covers Myanmar news.

Describing Myint as a prodigy of the former dictator, Aung Zaw said that his selection was not surprising given that the post had to be filled by the military.

"I think they chose someone who would protect the vested interests of the military and the former dictator. So the choice doesn't seem surprising but it doesn't make anything promising to this reform process," he said.

"He's not noted as a reformer," said Sean Turnell, an associate professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, of the 61-year-old candidate. "I think that fact alone will disappoint many people who watch and are closely involved in Burma."

Since becoming president in March 2011, Thein Sein has steered Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, away from its repressive military past, towards what many hope is a truly democratic future.

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The release of lauded democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and her subsequent election to parliament is the clearest signal yet of Thein's commitment to reform.

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However, military men still dominate parliament and any step forward must be navigated with their approval, which has made Myanmar's democratic reform a delicate and difficult process.

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The resignation of the "hardliner" Vice President Tin Aung Mying Oo early this month handed the military a clear opportunity to convey its view on the direction the country is taking.

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"I think by appointing someone who is not an overt reformer they're sort of signaling I think what we understand to be their current situation; that they're much more cautious, much more reluctant reformers than some of the reformist groups in the government," Turnell said.

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According to Irrawaddy, Myint graduated from the Defense Services Academy in 1971 before rising through the ranks to become commander of the Light Infantry Division 11, responsible for security in Rangoon, also known as Yangon.

He later served in the War Office before returning to Rangoon as head of the Rangoon Division where he was thought to have participated in the violent crackdown on protesters during the 2007 "Saffron Revolution."

As least a dozen people were killed, several dozens wounded and more than 2,000 arrested, according to a U.N. Security Council report, which added that the toll could be much higher.

"(Myint) was responsible for security affairs in Yangon, Rangoon and when the shooting took place the order probably came from the top and he had to take care of all the things on the ground, meaning the troops and killing and detaining," Aung Zaw said.

However, Turnell said Myint was also considered someone who "gets along," that is, someone who can navigate a path between military loyalists and people within the government more receptive to change.

"In that context he's not altogether that different from the current President Thein Sein who of course is also someone who seems to be able to get along with both the previous regime and some of the reformers," he said.

Turnell described former Vice President Tin Aung Mying Oo as a "very rough character with rough edges who aggravated a lot of people, particularly in the reformist camp."

"I think (Myint) won't be as overtly oppositional to reform. I think the remaining question is to what extent will he support it?"

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