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The nomination of chief minister of Rangoon Region and former lieutenant general Myint Swe as the new vice president signals another step forward in the country’s reform process, according to analysts.
“Yet another hardliner is being replaced by a reformist,” said one Rangoon-based foreign analyst, referring to the departure of former Vice President and hardliner Tin Aung Myint Oo.
“This is a clear sign that the reforms are being strengthened and the process is going to keep moving forward,” said the analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Another political analyst said Myint Swe was most likely nominated by his military colleagues for his clean record and support of the reform process.
“He’s clearly on the side of President Thein Sein and on the side of reforms,” the analyst said.
Since rumours of Tin Aung Myint Oo’s resignation began circulating, Burma experts have debated who would be on the short list to replace the vice president.
Sources close to the government say President Thein Sein and his aides have spent the last week narrowing down a list of candidates suitable for the vacant vice-president position, after Tin Aung Myint Oo stood down citing health reasons.
However, some argue the former vice president was pushed out over his refusal to commit to the reform process, corrupt dealings and close links to the former military regime.
Veteran journalist and political analyst Maung Wuntha told The Myanmar Times Thura Shwe Mann, General Ko Ko from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Tin Aye and Htay Oo were some big names speculated to replace Tin Aung Myint Oo.
“To become a vice president, he should have a good relationship with the president as well as opposition parties and politicians inside and outside parliament,” said Maung Wuntha during an interview with The Myanmar Times.
However another analyst said Htay Oo was not chosen because it is likely Shwe Mann, who was groomed for the position of president under former general Than Shwe before being delegated to the Speaker of the Lower House role under current President Thein Sein, might view him as competition ahead of the 2015 presidential elections.
The news of Myint Swe’s nomination comes as the government unveiled a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle, as President Thein Sein named six new deputy ministers.
The list, published on 10 July in the New Light of Myanmar, states new deputy ministers have been appointed to the union ministries of the Presidential Office, Rail Transportation, Finance and Revenue, Transport, Communications, Posts and Telegraphs and Education.
The respective deputy ministers will be Thant Shin, Chan Maung, Win Shein, Han Sein, Win Than and Dr Myo Myint.
Experts warn more ministerial heads may still be for the chopping block, including USDP member Htay Oo, Information Minister Kyaw San and Electric Power Minister Zaw Min, as the government seeks to push out more hardliners and bring in those who support the reform process.
However, one analyst says former hardliner Kyaw San may be permitted to hang onto his position because of his open support for President Thein Sein’s reforms.
“Kyaw San is a poster child for the transition and in the system – so I don’t see why the government would change him,” the analyst said.
According to the analyst, the government needed to fill itself with people who were committed to the reform process and receptive to the voices of people from civil society, political parties and the private sector as well as pushing forward with economic reforms.
“And in these regards, U Myint Swe completely fits the bill,” he said.
Myint Swe, an ethnic Mon, has risen steadily through the ranks to his current post as chief minister of Rangoon Region and has been outspoken over his support for the reform process.
“We are meeting at a very special time in Myanmar’s history, at a time of transition, of change, and reform, under the leadership of the President U Thein Sein,” Myint Swe told crowds at a Yangon Heritage Trust conference at the Strand Hotel on 1 June 2012.
“We have made great progress in just the past year,” he said.
The former head of the Military Affairs Security department also recently joined forces with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at an opening ceremony for the European Union (EU) representative office in Rangoon and is said to be well respected amongst his political colleagues as well as a good public speaker.
However, Myint Swe’s public comments last year aimed at exile media groups – claiming their reports were tarnishing public perceptions of the Thein Sein administration – have made some question his reformist image.
He issued a warning to Burmese reporters not to share information from scheduled government press conferences with the exile media, who were forbidden to attend.
“[The exile media] is not allowed to attend these meetings and those of you being allowed to attend should contemplate this. If we hold these meetings more often, then there will be more reports by [the exile media]. That is why we are now not holding them often,” U Myint Swe told Burmese journalists during a press conference last July.
The retired lieutenant general and member of the country’s ruling political party, the USDP, was nominated by military appointees on Tuesday, according to state media.
After being nominated by military appointees, his position will be decided by a parliamentary committee consisting of a small number of MPs, including some high ranking members of the military as well as speakers of the upper and lower houses, Khin Aung Myint and Thura Shwe Mann, said sources close to the government.
“After they review, they will report to the combined session on the Monday 16th July,” the source said.
-Kate Kelly is a pseudonym for a journalist working inside Burma.