x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Parliament picks junta leader as new Myanmar president

Myanmar's parliament named the premier of the outgoing military government as the country's new president Friday, handing a key junta member the top job in the post-election administration.

YANGON // Myanmar's parliament named the premier of the outgoing military government as the country's new president Friday, handing a key junta member the top job in the post-election administration.

The appointment of Thein Sein, 65, was the latest step in Myanmar's self-declared transition to democracy following elections in November, but critics have slammed the process as a sham aimed at cementing military rule.

The military's delegates in parliament and their civilian allies hold an 80 percent majority in the new legislature, which handpicked the new president from a pool of three vice presidents named on Thursday. Thein Sein is the most prominent of the three and was seen as a shoe-in for the head of government.

An upper house lawmaker, Khin Shwe, contacted inside the parliament said Thein Sein won 408 out of 659 votes.

The future role of junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who has wielded absolute power since 1992, remains unclear. But he is expected to remain a dominant force.

Under the 2008 constitution that came into force Monday with the opening of the Union Parliament, the president appoints the commander in chief, chief ministers of the regions and states and several Cabinet ministers.

The president has the authority to sever diplomatic relations with foreign countries with parliament's approval and grant pardons or amnesties with the recommendation of the National Defense and Security Council, which he is the head of.

Thein Sein is a former general who served as the junta's prime minister from October 2007 and now heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in November's general elections that much of the international community dismissed as rigged in favor of the junta.

Thein Sein also has an image as a "clean" soldier, not engaged in corruption. Still, as prime minister and the fourth-ranking military leader in the junta, Thein Sein previously did not have much decision-making power.

Members of the new president's political party described him as a moderate with political skills that went unnoticed in his previous job.

"Thein Sein is an avid reader and a good listener. He's a very patient man and very decisive. I believe he can do more for the welfare of the grassroots people, and I see him as a person who can help develop Myanmar's economy," said Khin Shwe, a business tycoon and lawmaker from Thein Sein's USDP party.

Another vice president and senior junta leader, Tin Aung Myint Oo, got 171 votes, Khin Shwe said. As the No. 2 vice president he would serve as acting president if Thein Sein's post becomes vacant due to resignation, death or any other cause.

He was a lieutenant general who, like Thein Sein, resigned his military post last year to run in November's election.

The country's third vice president is Sai Mauk Kham, a relatively unknown ethnic Shan doctor who runs a private clinic and is a member of the military-backed party. He received 75 votes in Friday's presidential run-off.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962. There has been general curiosity in Myanmar about who will become the next president, but there is also a widespread perception that the military cheated in the elections and that the new government will not bring democratic change.

The party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the last previous elections in 1990 but was blocked at the time from taking power by the military, boycotted November's vote, calling it unfair.