Burma’s Information Minister Aung Kyi and Health Minister Dr Pe Thet Khin have been “allowed for resignation of their own volition”, the president’s office announced on Tuesday.
One day after the sudden joint resignation, Burmese President Thein Sein informed the nation’s parliament of his official nominations for their replacements: Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut and Deputy Health Minister Dr Than Aung, respectively.
While the government has yet to offer an explanation for the swap-outs, some believe that permission to resign veils official pressure to leave a post; Aung Kyi, known as a relatively moderate voice for the press, is thought to have had deep disagreements with the president over media repression.
“Minister Aung Kyi, in meetings with the Interim Press Council, refused to blame the media for recent disputes with the government,” said Myint Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Journalists Network, referring to several controversial lawsuits recently brought against journalists. The most infamous was a case against five employees of the now-defunct Unity Weekly journal, who are currently serving a ten year prison sentence with hard labour for their investigative reporting.
“[Aung Kyi] did make a point about professional weaknesses of Burma’s media, but he did not defend the government’s jailing of reporters,” Myint Kyaw added. “Instead he suggested that severe jail terms against journalists were caused by a lack of courage on behalf of local courts; they are reluctant to make their own verdict [against government charges]. This made his opinion stand out from other government officials.”
Though the former minister sometimes contradicted the government line, he was far less outspoken than his successor, the president’s spokesperson Ye Htut. Likewise, Dr Pe Thet Khin was known for keeping a low profile as health minister; he did not enter politics with a military background, and his tenure was brief as he was appointed by Thein Sein in 2011.
The shake-up follows another major cabinet reshuffle just last month, when the sacking of Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint coincided with the resignation of Arakan State’s Chief Minister Hla Maung Tin. The former has yet to be replaced, while the latter was controversially succeeded by a military official, Maj-Gen Maung Maung Ohn, who was, in turn, replaced by Maj-Gen Tin Aung Chit as minister of border affairs.