Major government overhaul underway

Two new ministries have been added to the Burmese government as part of a major overhaul of the country’s administrative system that places key military figures at the top of the pile.

Following yesterday’s parliamentary session the Ministry of the President’s Office and the Ministry of Industrial Development became the latest additions to Burma’s political landscape.

The remaining 32 have been revamped and most will come under new directorship. But the heads of four of the most prominent departments – the defence ministry, home affairs ministry, foreign affairs ministry and border affairs ministry – will be nominated solely by the commander-in-chief, Than Shwe, and then appointed by President Thein Sein.

The Ministry of Border Affairs has already been placed under the leadership of Major-General Hla Min, a senior figure in the Burmese army and former commander of the Southern Regional Military Command. The defence ministry will be headed by Lieutenant-General Ko Ko, former Chief of Bureau of Special Operations-3.

Burma’s border regions have for decades hosted conflicts between the Burmese army and armed ethnic groups that have left millions displaced. Hla Min will likely be kept busy dealing with the escalating tensions between the Burmese army and groups who refused the junta’s demands to transform into Border Guard Forces.

Retaining his position as Minister for Religious Affairs is Thura Myint Maung, the man who infamously announced on government radio in September 2007 that “action would be taken” against demonstrating monks unless they withdrew from the protests. Several were subsequently gunned down by the army.

The outcome of today’s parliamentary session will do little to appease critics of the November 2010 elections who claimed the polls were merely window-dressing, and that military rule would continue in Burma under the guise of a civilian government.

Close allies of the ruling junta make up the remaining new ministers: the country’s former police chief, Khin Yi, once a military man, has become home minister while Wunna Maung Lwin, Burma’s former ambassador to the UN, is head of foreign affairs.

Eight of the 14 people appointed as chief ministers of regional legislatures also come fresh from the military, further extending the army’s reach into the volatile border regions.

Overseeing the reshuffle is Burma’s new president, Thein Sein, a man whose military career spanned half a century before he retired last year. The former prime minister is known to be close to junta strongman Than Shwe, who in 2004 appointed him head of the National Convention which drafted the constitution that came into force with November’s election, and appeared designed to keep the generals in power.

Supporting the military figures now holding top positions in government ministries are the pro-junta MPs and army officials that dominate the new parliament, which sat for the first time last week. Respresentatives of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was headed by Thein Sein, won 80 percent of seats, while a quarter of the total seats had been reserved for the military prior to voting.

Additional reporting by Francis Wade

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