Shwe Mann quits ‘to become Burma president’

The Burmese junta’s third-in-command, General Shwe Mann, has retired from his post in preparation for taking the top position after elections this year, government sources say.

The Joint Chief-of-Staff privately announced his retirement to senior cabinet members last night, and becomes the latest top-level junta official to step down from the military to pursue a ministerial position in post-election Burma.

It is rumoured that the retirement from the military of Senior General Than Shwe and vice-chairperson Maung Aye will shortly follow, an official at Burma’s foreign ministry told DVB on condition of anonymity.

Current Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein, will become the new vice president, while Than Shwe and Maung Aye will become the official president and vice president of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is currently headed by Prime Minister Thein Sein, who quit his military post in April. The two however will play no official role in the government or army, but instead act as patrons of the party.

The USDP has been widely tipped to win controversial elections slated for 7 November, and the foreign ministry official said that the party may stay in power for two terms, equating to 10 years.

It is not known who will take the place of the 77-year-old Than Shwe as army chief, but the current Chief of Bureau of Special Operation – 2, Min Aung Hlaing, will be promoted to Adjutant General, the official said, ranking at around sixth in the military hierarchy.

Thein Htay, who heads Defence Industry 1 and who accompanied Shwe Mann on a top-secret visit to North Korea in 2008, will become Chief of Military Ordinance, while Wai Lwin, from the Regional Military Command, will become Quartermaster General.

A number of other senior Regional Military Command members have also been promoted: Light Infantry Division (LID) 33 commander Aung Kyaw Zaw becomes the Northeastern Regional Military Commander (RMC), while LID 88 commander, whose name is not known, will become the Southern RMC. LID 99 commander Khin Maung Htay will become the Coastal Region Military Commander, and LID 101 commmander Sein Win has been transferred to the ministry of foreign affairs. The previous RMCs have all been moved to the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) to replace their predecessors who have now retired.

The government has stipulated that no one older than 60 shall serve as the commander-in-chief of Burma’s 500,000-strong army, who’s various leaders have ruled the Southeast Asian pariah since a coup in 1962.

The Burmese junta has launched a wholesale reshuffle of its ranks in recent months, starting with Thein Sein’s resignation in April. It is only two months until the country’s first elections in 20 years, and conditions surrounding the polls appear to have been carefully orchestrated to ensure that while a cosmetic change takes place at the top of the government, the same people will continue to pull the strings after November.

The re-positioning is also apparently in accordance with a clause in the 2008 constitution that says that both the vice president and president “shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union, such as…military”, implying that experience in the army may be a prerequisite for the top jobs.

Moreover, the constitution rules that 25 percent of parliamentary seats must been given to military personnel, which may be a key reason behind the reshuffle.

This would rule out the vast majority of candidates running in the elections, and seems to reinforce concerns that Burma’s future is being planned before polls even take place.

Forty-one parties have so far been approved to compete, but many of the smaller groups have complained that the 500,000 kyat (US$500) registration fee for each candidate is well beyond their reach, and therefore are forced to significantly reduce the number of candidates they’ll be fielding.

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