President to chair defence council

Burma’s new president, Thein Sein, will head an 11-member National Defence and Security Council, it was announced Thursday, while the former junta strongman and commander-in-chief, Than Shwe, is conspicuously absent.

Than Shwe’s replacement, Min Aung Hlaing, is also on the Council, as is speaker of the lower house, Shwe Mann. But what of the ageing dictator who recently appointed Thein Sein to the country’s top post?

“Officially Than Shwe is not on [the Council], and that is what leaves us guessing,” said Burma analyst Larry Jagan, adding that he believed it would be a “coordinating body” and not a “decision-making authority”.

He said however that the presence of Thein Sein and Shwe Mann meant it would have “tremendous influence – it will be hard for any of the key players not to heed their advice.”

Also present is Burma’s new foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, and the two vice presidents, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Sai Mauk Kham, the latter one of the few high-ranking ethnic appointees.

What may be of significance, says Jagan, is the ascendance of a new generation in regional military positions, such as the commanders of the Bureaus of Special Operations (BSO), of which there are six responsible for different geographic areas of the country.

“They retired all the old ones. You now have younger people basically in all positions – some of the old regional commanders have been made chief ministers and this will be an interesting relationship between the old chief ministers and the new regional commanders.”

He continued that the regional commanders “are not going to be inclined to take orders from civilians”, regardless of their former military positions. “The patronage link is broken as soon as they leave the military.”

The dynamics of future relations between the new generation, whom Jagan terms “Young Turks” and the older generation who have been assimilated into the fold of Naypyidaw politics, may not emerge immediately.

Specific details of the Council, such as the number of times it is required to sit each year, remain unclear.

Meanwhile, a new chief has been chosen to head Burma’s police force. Like his predecessor, Khin Yi, Brig-Gen Kyaw Kyaw Tun is a former military man who took over as deputy commander of Rangoon in 2006, meaning that he likely played an instrumental role in the deadly suppression of the monk-led protests in September 2007.

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