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More than 20 senior Burmese government ministers, including the prime minister, General Thein Sein, yesterday retired from their military posts in a move that analysts claim will allow them to focus on elections this year.
A government source told AFP however that the move was just a “uniform change”, with the ministers likely to retain their position and responsibilities. Pictures published today in the state-run Myanmar Ahlin newpaper showed Thein Sein still dressed in military uniform.
Burma analyst Larry Jagan told DVB however that the ministers will go further than quitting just their military posts.
“I’m hearing that they will be resigning their ministerial post in the very near future and an interim cabinet will be set up and they will then declare their candidacy for the elections,” he said.
“There is some doubt over whether Thein Sein was actually going to be entering politics – he wanted to retire from politics. It’s really difficult to say what he’s going to be doing, I don’t think he knows.
“A lot is going to depend on what [junta chief] Than Shwe decides he’s doing, but this is the first real sign that [Thein Sein] is likely to have a political role.”
The government is yet to set a date for elections, although it has confirmed they will be held in the second half of the year. Nineteen political parties have already registered to contest the polls, while Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), announced it would not be running in light of the draconian election laws.
Critics of the ruling junta have said that the elections are a sham designed to appease international pressure on the regime, which will continue its grip on power after the elections under the guise of a civilian government. The 2008 constitution already guarantees the army around a quarter of parliamentary seats prior to voting.
The role that the military’s top brass will play in a new government remains unclear. Than Shwe, who has ruled Burma since 1992, is pushing 80, and analysts believe he may step out of the limelight and take more of a backseat role, despite remaining an influential figure in government.
Key figures in a number of registered parties are known to hold close ties to the junta, although it remains to be seen what sort of leverage they will have in the new parliament.
The election laws and constitution appear to have been designed to limit any chances of parliamentary seats for political opposition, while various government proxy organisations, such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), are rumoured to be forming parties that will consolidate the current government’s support base.