Myanmar picks junta insider as President: official

Yangon, Feb 4 (AFP) Myanmar named a key retired generalas President today, an official said, as the militaryhierarchy retained its stranglehold on power in the country''snew political system.

Thein Sein, who shed his army uniform to contestcontroversial elections last year, "was elected as thePresident with a majority vote," a Myanmar official told AFPon condition of anonymity.

The former junta prime minister had been tipped for thepost even before the electoral committee vote, supportingfears that the regime has engineered the political process tohide military power behind a civilian facade.

A key ally of junta strongman Than Shwe, the 65-year-oldbecame a civilian to contest the November election as head ofthe junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party(USDP), which claimed an overwhelming majority in the poll.

One of the President''s first jobs will be to appoint agovernment, and he can be confident of little resistance froma Parliament dominated by the military and its cronies.

Sources said he was likely to retain his position asPrime Minister in addition to his new role.

Under complex parliamentary rules, the upper house, lowerhouse and members of the military each nominated one vicepresident. A select committee then chose the President fromthe three candidates, all of them members of the USDP asMyanmar''s military, which has ruled the country since 1962,continued its domination.

The two vice presidents are Tin Aung Myint Oo, anotherretired top general and Than Shwe ally, and an ethnic Shan,Sai Mouk Kham.

Though Than Shwe, who has ruled Myanmar with an iron fistsince 1992, has not taken the top political role, manyanalysts believe he will attempt to retain some sort ofcontrol behind the scenes.

Maung Zarni, of the London School of Economics, said thecountry''s power structure was "classic dictatorship".

"The good guys do not get promoted," he said.

But Myanmar expert Aung Naing Oo said the very fact thatThan Shwe was taking a back seat could present a smallopportunity for change.

"Anything is possible if Than Shwe leaves. Maybe nowThein Sein is considered a very loyal ''yes man'' but soon hewill have to find his own way," he said.

The formation of a national assembly in Naypyidaw,convened for the first time on Monday, takes the countrytowards the final stage of the junta''s so-called "roadmap" toa "disciplined democracy".

A quarter of the seats were kept aside for the militaryeven before the vote, and the country''s first poll in 20 yearswas marred by the absence of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyiand claims of cheating and intimidation. (AFP)

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