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Thein Sein appoints opposition MP to cabinet position

President Thein Sein officially brought a member of the opposition into his inner circle yesterday with the appointment of National Democratic Force (NDF)’s Tin Shwe to the military-dominated cabinet.

The NDF executive member and upper house representative was appointed as the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism’s deputy-minister by the president.

The opposition figure was one of five civilians appointed to deputy minister positions within the president’s cabinet on Wednesday.

“It’s not a lot, but it’s the beginning. I think the government has shown they are willing to bring opposition figures into the cabinet,” said Aung Naing Oo, deputy head of the Thailand-based think tank Vahu Development Institute.

With more than 40 members in the presidential cabinet, Aung Naing Oo admitted that the move may be merely symbolic, although the appointment was still was an important step forward for the nascent government.

“A friend of mine from Columbia University told me years ago that the first government that comes into power after long, authoritarian rule never lasts,” said Aung Naing Oo.

“To me, it’s a miracle that this government has lasted this long and it’s forging ahead.”

Tin Shwe — a retired physician and religious enthusiast — was elected to the upper house of parliament in the discredited 2010 general elections, after his party split from the National League for Democracy. It followed a high-profile dispute with Aung San Suu Kyi over whether to participate in the process.

The NDF’s chairman Khin Maung Swe said that Tin Shwe has become increasingly out of touch with his party since becoming an MP, and the gap is likely to grow larger now that he is a cabinet member.

“Although he’s our executive committee member, he could only attend leadership meetings held once every six or seven months since he’s been busy in the parliament. So he hasn’t been able to effectively serve his role as an executive member,” said Khin Maung Swe.

“Now that he’s becoming a minister, the gap will be even bigger — a minister can’t take part in the party’s activities.”

According to Burma’s 2008 constitution, Tin Shwe will also be required to resign his seat in parliament.

The NDF was formed after a schism erupted within the NLD over the leadership’s decision to boycott the 2010 general elections.

The newly formed NDF finished fifth in the polls in 2010 and secured 16 seats in parliament.

In the wake of the elections, the NDF experienced its own schism, resulting in the creation of a new party when one of the group’s leaders and elected representatives Thein Nyunt and four other NDF parliamentarians broke away and formed the New National Democratic Party.

In May, the NDF announced plans to restructure the party after losing more members, who rejoined the NLD after the major opposition party participated in the 2012 by-elections where it picked up 43 parliamentary seats.

Political parties outside of the Union Solidarity and Development Party and NLD’s tutelage are commonly referred to as “Third Force” organisations in Burma.

– Peter Aung contributed reporting. 

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