Myanmar military picks hard-line vice president

The burgundy-clad monks in the 2007 confusingly named “saffron” revolution. Myanmar’s next second in command, Myint Swe, was blamed for its brutal suppression. Source: Wikimedia

While Myanmar’s Parliament has elected Htin Kyaw of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) as its new president, the first civilian to lead the country since 1962, commentators are alarmed at the appointment of an allegedly corrupt ex-general as his second in command.

“Today’s result is a triumph for Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Htin Kyaw, 69. The academic and long-time aide of the Nobel laureate was elected by 360 MPs while Myint Swe from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who was appointed by the military, was elected first vice president with 213 votes, meaning he is second-in-command.

The military representatives in parliament are allocated 166 seats, 25 per cent of the chamber, while the military-backed USDP won 41 seats in the two houses in last November’s election. Henry Van Thio, an NLD upper house member and an ethnic Chin Christian, was also named vice president with 79 votes.

The new government will be sworn-in on March 30.

Myint Swe, is a notorious former general blacklisted by the US, whose appointment has sparked widespread criticism.

He led the brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 2007 and would become president if Htin Kyaw were incapacitated.

Some analysts described the appointment as a direct challenge to Suu Kyi, suggesting the military is not prepared to relinquish much power.

The appointment creates diplomatic difficulties for the USA and Australia while they have been vocal in their support of the new administration.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US had “made its concerns known about this individual and this process, quite frankly, and we’ll monitor it going forward”.

In 2012 Myint Swe was proposed as vice president but was barred constitutionally because his son-in-law had Australian citizenship. He has since adopted Burmese nationality.

Myint Swe, 64, is a close supporter of the still-influential retired dictator Than Shwe and one of dozens of military-linked leaders and tycoons on the US Treasury Department business blacklist.

Since Myint Swe became chief minister of Yangon in 2011, he has been linked to controversial commercial deals and ties to “crony” tycoons.

As head of a military intelligence unit, he used extreme force to break the so-called “saffron revolution” in 2007, during which 32 protesters were shot dead in Yangon.

Myanmar’s social media accused him of being behind paramilitary attacks, by civilians wearing red armbands, on student demonstrators in Yangon last March.

The NLD is apparently dismayed by Myint Swe’s appointment after Suu Kyi has tried hard to smooth the transition to power through numerous private meetings.

An NLD spokesperson said there were concerned about the role Myint Swe would play in the powerful National Defence and Security Council where the armed forces still have a majority of 11 members.

Under the constitution, Htin Kyaw will appoint a cabinet but Suu Kyi says he will be subordinate to her as she will run the country as a “super” minister in the president’s office.

It is rumoured she will become foreign minister, which will enable her to also sit on the National Defence and Security Council, although it would mean she would have to give up her party role.

A far less contentious appointment than Myint Swe, the next president Htin Kyaw attended school with Suu Kyi at Dagon township’s Basic Education High School Number 1 before graduating in economics from Rangoon University.

In 1971, he was the first scholar to be sent abroad by the university’s computer department to study at the University of London Institute of Computer Science while Suu Kyi lived in London.

She later studied at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies while Htin Kyaw returned to junta-ruled Burma, led by dictator Ne Win.