Myanmar President Thein Sein has announced his second major cabinet reshuffle since taking power two years ago from the former military junta, reassigning four ministers, dropping two deputy ministers and naming scholars as among 10 new deputy minister appointments.
The announcement by the President’s Office, made late Thursday, marks the first significant shakeup since Thein Sein approved nine new cabinet posts in August last year.
Observers cautiously welcomed the changes, calling on the scholars appointed as deputy ministers to positions once held by the military particularly to speak out to make government policy more effective.
As part of the shakeup, former Minister of Rail Transportation Zeya Aung was reassigned as minister of energy, former Minister of Labor, Employment and Social Welfare Maung Myint as minister of industry, former Minister of Industry Aye Myint as minister of labor, employment and social welfare, and former Minister of Energy Than Htay as minister of rail transportation.
Two deputy ministers with the education and rail transportation ministries, Aye Kyu and Thura Thaung Lwin, were allowed to resign, the announcement said.
Of the 10 reshuffled deputy minister positions, five were reassigned and five newly appointed, among which were a handful of scholars from the private sector.
Additionally, former Police Chief Brigadier-General Kyaw Kyaw Tun was promoted to deputy home minister, while his vacant post was assigned to his deputy, Brigadier-General Zaw Win.
No details were given about why the reorganization had taken place.
‘Speak their minds’
While some observers have said that the shuffle mainly served to reward those close to the President’s Office with key ministerial positions, others say that the appointment of scholars as deputy ministers marks a significant step by Myanmar to include non-military personnel in decision-making roles.
Khin Maung Swe, Chairman of the opposition National Democratic Force party, said that in order to be effective leaders, the new deputy ministers must speak out about the subjects they are knowledgeable in to help produce progressive policy.
“The scholars who were appointed as ministers must not defer [to others] on issues related to their fields,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service Friday.
“If they don’t speak their minds in an effort to hold onto their seats, the situation will remain as before. We just want ministers who will speak out about what they think and who exhibit leadership qualities.”
Khin Maung Swe said that Myanmar must place more “democratically-minded” people into government before the country’s next national election in 2015 in order to ensure its new political system survives.
“We have heard some comments such as, ‘The government’s team is weak and indecisive’,” he said.
“I know that it won’t change completely, as the new government was born from the military government, but I think more strength is needed to build a better administration.”
‘Good listeners’ needed
Tin Myint, a former director of the ministry of energy, said that it is not enough to appoint scholars to high-level positions in the government—their superiors must also consider their ideas.
“The ministers should be good listeners,” Tin Myint said.
“The presidents can’t know everything. The president listens to proposals from his ministers and makes decisions based on that, so deputy ministers and ministers must speak out about what they think it is right.”
Kyaw Lin Oo, a commentator on Myanmar politics, said that having an effective group of ministers is essential to a government’s ability to implement successful policies.
He warned against appointing ministers who might compromise their position because of personal issues.
“A ministerial position is a political position. Although there are intelligent and skillful ministers in the ministries, there may be previously unforeseen difficulties for them,” he said.
“If policy is suffering from flaws and other weaknesses because of these difficulties, the relevant minister should be willing to take responsibility and resign.”
In August, Thein Sein switched up nine of 33 cabinet posts, including for the key finance, information, industry, national planning and economic development portfolios.
The changes replaced Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, seen as a stumbling block to media reforms, with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, the president's point-man in talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thein Sein also appointed Railway Minister Aung Min, who had played a leading role in ceasefire talks with ethnic rebels, as well as Finance Minister Hla Tun, Industry Minister Soe Thein and Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Tin Naing Thein, key figures in economic reforms, as ministers in the president's office.
The cabinet changes followed the appointment earlier in August of navy chief Nyan Tun, who has a reputation as a political moderate, to be one of the country’s two vice presidents, replacing a hardliner who resigned for health reasons.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.