A former general nominated to be Burma’s vice-president is unlikely to be an obstacle to continued democratic reform if confirmed to the post, observers say, as lawmakers seek to replace a hardliner who has resigned.
Members of the military in Burma’s parliament on Monday nominated Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe, 61, to succeed Tin Aung Myint Oo, whose resignation due to health reasons was announced last week.
The vice-president post is largely seen as symbolic, but can act as a mediator between the country’s opposition and the nominally civilian government which, despite being dominated by ex-generals from the former military junta, has embarked on a series of progressive political changes since taking power in March last year.
A quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for serving military personnel, who nominate one of the country’s two vice-presidents. Parliamentary approval of the military’s nominee is seen as a formality.
While observers appear to have mixed reactions to Myint Swe’s nomination, they mostly do not expect the candidate to hinder Burmese President Thein Sein’s reformist agenda if selected.
Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said that the country’s vice-president should be committed to furthering democratic change in Burma, while speaking with reporters in the capital Naypyidaw.
“The vice-president nominee should be someone who is dedicated to democracy and national reconciliation,” said the National League for Democracy (NLD) parliamentarian.
Aye Maung, a Member of Parliament and chairman of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, said that Myint Swe is “very close” to former military supremo Than Shwe, but expressed optimism that he might serve as a “moderator” between the opposition and the army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
“The tradition of military hierarchy is still unchanged. A number of former generals who are expected to take over vacant positions in politics are lined up,” he said.
“If [Myint Swe] can fulfill President Thein Sein’s expectations and can play as a moderator, there will be no barriers for us [in the opposition].”
Ko Ko, editor of the Yangon Times, said Myint Swe would make an ideal vice-president for both the military and the reformists.
“According to his track record, Myint Swe is a good soldier. He is known to be clean and one of the least corrupt politicians,” he said.
“The president might want someone like him because he is obedient and hard working.”
But Reuters news agency quoted a businessman, who declined to be named, as expressing disappointment with the nomination.
"Frankly, we would like to see someone else replace the outgoing vice-president. I mean someone who would be able to reinforce President Thein Sein in the complicated reform process," the source said.
An ethnic Mon, Myint Swe is Burma’s first regional commander to rise above the rank of major-general.
He rose quickly through the ranks after graduating from Rangoon’s Defense Service Academy in 1973, commanding several units and eventually taking over Rangoon command in 2001. He also served as the chairman of the Rangoon division Peace and Development Council.
Following the purge of then intelligence chief and Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2004, Myint Swe took over as the head of Burma’s new military intelligence agency while retaining his position at the top of Rangoon command. The following year he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general.
He now commands the Bureau of Special Operations–5, which is responsible for security, military, political, economic, and social tasks in Naypyidaw and Rangoon.
Myint Swe has been associated with several incidents which have led members of the opposition to question his commitment to democratic reform in Burma.
In early 2006, he launched a campaign to track down citizens in Burma who were feeding information to the international media.
Myint Swe was also head of special operations in Rangoon at the time of a monk-led uprising in 2007 that was brutally put down by the military authorities.
In April 2008, Myint Swe described to a meeting of some 600 people, which included senior government officials, the junta’s plans for pushing through a May 2008 constitutional referendum. Plans included announcing only final results in one announcement from the new capital, Naypidaw, rather than local tallies.
Myint Swe stepped down from his rank of lieutenant-general and ran as a civilian for the USDP, which won Burma’s November 2010 elections, widely seen as rigged.
During religious clashes between Buddhists and Muslims last month in Rakhine state, Myint Swe threatened journalists with imprisonment if they used language that incited violence.
His nomination comes following reports last week of a leadership reshuffle in Naypyidaw that is expected to see three hardline senior ministers in Burma’s government make way for more moderate figures.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.