Burma’s parliament has named the country’s first civilian president.
Following almost 50 years of military rule, former general and outgoing prime minister Thein Sein (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) was appointed president.
His vice-presidents will be Tin Aung Myint Oo and Sai Mauk Kham, all three are members of the military-backed USDP party, which in November’s polls won the majority.
Tin Aung Myint Oo was the outgoing regime’s fifth-in-command and Sai Mauk Kham, a member of the ethnic Shan group, is a member of the military-backed USDP but has not held political posts.
It was the first election in Burma in 20 years and was widely criticised and condemned as a sham.
Thein Sein is a career soldier and an ally of top general Than Shwe. The new president first joined the military government in 1997 and he will now appoint ministers who will serve in his new administration.
Most senior positions are expected by critics to go to other retired or still serving military officers.
Top general Than Shwe has ruled Burma since 1992 but he did not run for president. His role in the future is still unclear.
According to analysts the 77-year-old is unlikely to relinquish all power and is expected to either remain as head of the powerful military or take a significant behind-the-scenes political position.
‘Roadmap to democracy’
Earlier this week, Burma’s parliament announced its shortlist of five candidates to become president. The appointment of Thein Sein was widely expected from that moment.
Before the 7 November election, about 20 military chiefs stepped down from their army posts in order to run as civilian candidates, 65-year-old Thein Sein was one of them. Critics said the aim of that move was to secure the military’s grip on power.
He is the leader of the newly formed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won almost 77% of the vote in the election.
A USDP representative told the Democratic Voice of Burma that as a prime minister, Thein Sein “has a lot of experience and ideas, and is already familiar with the international community.”
Naming a civilian president is the final step in Burma’s so-called “roadmap to democracy” : moving the country from military to civilian rule.
However a quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved by law for the military.
Therefore after the election, the military and its proxies are firmly in control of the new parliament.
On Monday, the first sitting of the parliament appointed Thura Shwe Mann, the junta’s number three leader who stood down from the military in order to run in the polls, as lower house Speaker.
Former Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint was named as Speaker of the Upper House.
The National League for Democracy, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is not represented in the new parliament.
The party which won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed by the military to take power, disbanded ahead of the November election because of election laws that would have forced it to expel its leaders.