NAYPYITAW (July 4): Myanmar President Thein Sein plans to reshuffle his cabinet and appoint a new vice-president soon to reduce the influence of anti-reform ministers and accelerate changes in the former pariah state, several lawmakers with close ties to the government said.
The reshuffle is expected in the current session of parliament that reconvenes on Wednesday and could sideline some hardliners by reducing their responsibilities in the 37-member cabinet or give them new roles, say the lawmakers.
"He needs to make the cabinet more vibrant and effective and he has to remove some conservatives who are reluctant to accept his reforms," said one senior Upper House lawmaker who asked not to be identified.
"Some ministries will be merged while some will be put under others, so some ministers may lose their positions in the shake-up." The pace of change in Myanmar, already dramatic, looks set to accelerate after Thein Sein, a former general, announced on June 19 a second wave of reforms that aim to triple the size of the economy in five years and modernise a backward state where a third of the population live below the poverty line.
Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo, a former top general close to Myanmar's retired dictator Than Shwe, submitted his resignation on May 3 but the president did not accept it and instead gave him two months' leave, say lawmakers and several government officials.
That has stoked intense speculation over his role. The four-star general, one of two vice-presidents, is considered a leader among hardliners in the 15-month-old military-backed government that replaced the often-brutal junta that ruled for half a century.
He was nominated by military delegates, who make up a quarter of the seats in parliament. The 61-year-old vice-president will almost certainly be replaced by another former general, say lawmakers contacted by Reuters.
Under Myanmar's army-drafted constitution, the military must nominate his replacement since he was their nominee. But that does not necessarily mean the replacement will be another hardliner.
The reformist government is stacked with former generals who have embarked on the breathtaking reforms, including freeing more than 600 political prisoners.
Possible replacements include Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye, a retired Lt-General who graduated from the elite Defence Services Academy in the same class as the president.
Another is Htay Oo, a retired major general who is secretary general of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Htay Oo, however, is not regarded as being as popular as Tin Aye within the armed forces.
Neither were immediately available to comment. Thein Sein faces pressure from allies to strengthen his cabinet's ability to carry out reforms, particularly with resistance from conservatives likely to stiffen in coming months as the government attempts to open up an economy that has long benefited a small elite with strong ties to the military.
Foreign investors have descended on Myanmar, but most appear to be window shopping, waiting for legislation including a foreign investment law that would protect their assets and clarify rules for foreign companies operating in the former Burma.
Some Myanmar business leaders have expressed concern the proposed investment law could hand too much influence to multinational companies when local firms are still coping with the transition from state controls and are in no position to compete with international brands following this year's suspension of U.S. and European sanctions.
The government must also counter intense public pressure for faster change. Protests have erupted in recent weeks over chronic power outages, textile wages and farm land reform. Long-simmering tensions between Rohingya Muslims and majority Buddhists have flared into deadly violence.
Being seen as moving too slow with reforms could be devastating for Thein Sein's ruling party in the next general election in 2015. The opposition led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide in April by-elections, sending an ominous signal to the military-backed ruling party. - Reuters