Rumors of a reshuffle in Burma's cabinet, fueled by hints from senior government advisers, have been circulating for months amid reports—strenuously denied by President Thein Sein himself—of a battle between the liberals and hardliners in the government.
Nevertheless, major changes to the cabinet and government policies are in the pipeline.
The massive victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the recent by-elections has made government changes inevitable, and has made the position of the hardliners in government even more untenable.
But first, Thein Sein has to announce the replacement for Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is seen by many as a hardliner though in recent months he had begun to swing in behind the president.
The Burmese government remains highly secretive, similar to the Chinese government, which resists having internal disputes and divisions made public. But there is, no doubt, a lot of horse trading and private discussion going on behind the scenes.
The current speaker of the lower house, Shwe Mann, seems to be the hot favorite to take on the vice president’s role.
A calming move?
Shwe Mann has become a thorn in Thein Sein’s side as the parliament battles with the president over legislation and the constitution. So moving the speaker to vice president would help calm the personal feud between the two of them.
This would also give the ambitious politician a better springboard for the 2015 elections and for the presidency, as Thein Sein has repeatedly told government insiders he will not be seeking a second term.
The question then becomes who will fill the vacant role of speaker of the lower house, who in turn will become the main speaker in the middle of next year.
This has now become a very powerful position, as parliament has become a significant political institution and has not been shy of flexing its muscles under Shwe Mann’s leadership.
For months now, government insiders have hinted that the president favors giving that post to Aung San Suu Kyi, now that she is a parliamentarian.
Diplomats in Rangoon are skeptical, though, saying she has repeatedly told them that she would not take an administrative post in the government.
She is particularly keen to pursue the political role of an MP and be a watchdog on government action—or inaction--and policies.
In reality though, the speaker’s job would be ideal for her to prove her political weight and help deliver a democracy dividend to the people. That has been one of her and the NLD’s constant concerns.
It would be an excellent opportunity for her to demand accountability and transparency from the ministers and the government bureaucracy.
She could also provide a role model and authority for the military MPs. There is no doubt that they respect her greatly, because of their high regard for her father, General Aung San. It would also put her in a pivotal position to push for constitutional reform.
But it is still unclear if the president will follow the counsel of his senior advisers, or even if the Lady would accept the offer. If not, then it may be a significant independent in parliament—like Aye Maung—that Thein Sein calls upon.
Of course, whoever is nominated needs to be endorsed or elected by the parliament.
Then there is the more vexed question of the cabinet reshuffle. Thein Sein, according to sources close to him, is wrestling with various options. The most critical is whether members of the NLD apart from Aung San Suu Kyi might be offered ministerial posts.
More civilians or civil servants are also being considered for less politically sensitive posts like the planned new minister for aid coordination in the president’s office.
In light of the election results—though it was on Thein Sein’s mind even before that—it seems likely that the liberals in the cabinet will be strengthened at the expense of the hardliners.
The rumor mills have been working overtime in recent months, with several names consistently being mooted for the chop.
These include the electricity minister Zaw Min, the fisheries minister Tin Naing Thein, the foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, the information minister Kyaw Hsan, and the sports minister Tint San.
There has been mounting speculation that a cabinet shuffle was imminent after several trips abroad, including the electricity minister’s trip to Switzerland, were cancelled more than a week ago on the president’s orders.
But one change that seems certain is that Aung Min, the railways minister and lead negotiator with many of the ceasefire groups, will give up his current post and become a minister in the president’s office put in charge of a revamped peace negotiating team.
This is all in the pipeline and will be announced within the next few weeks, according to government advisers. Under the constitution, the president has to announce to the parliament—the Pyihtawnsu Hluttaw or Union Parliament—the vice president’s resignation within seven days.
But if the parliament is in recess, he has to ask for an emergency session within 21 days, according to a government adviser.
Then the process of replacing will begin. And it is expected that the long-awaited cabinet shake-up will be announced at that time.
Larry Jagan is a former BBC regional correspondent who is based in Bangkok and has extensively covered Burma issues.