Saturday, 28 August 2010
Burma's ailing dictator resigns military post
Burma's reclusive and ailing dictator, Than Shwe, has resigned his military post, exiled Burmese media have reported, paving the way for him to become president in Burma's government after the elections.
Shwe, the despot who has brutally ruled south-east Asia's poorest country as commander-in-chief of the armed forces since 1992, yesterday handed control of the army to his adjutant general. However, the 77-year-old will remain head of the Burmese government.
More than a dozen other senior military officers also resigned, in an ominous sign for the country's forthcoming elections. Inside Burma, Shwe's resignation of his military role is being seen as a significant step towards ensuring he and his military cadres remain in charge after 7 November's national elections, the first to be held in Burma for two decades.
"I think this means only one thing – he wants to be president," a source inside Burma told the Guardian.
The country's new constitution says the presidency can only be held by a civilian, but it does insist the president and vice-president "shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union, such as … the military".
The junta's second-in-command, Maung Aye, also resigned, as did the regime's numbers three and four. It is understood they will stand as candidates for the junta's largest proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), in constituencies in the capital, Naypyidaw.
An unnamed military official said 15 senior army officials had resigned their posts, but did not confirm that the junta's leader was among them. But a second source told agencies the resignations went right to the top: "All top leaders have given up their military positions."
It is the second major reshuffle since April, when 27 senior military figures, including the prime minister, Thein Sein, resigned to lead the USDP.
Burma's last elections, in 1990, were won overwhelmingly by the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But the junta refused to recognise the result and Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of the past two decades in detention.
Her party is boycotting the poll after she was excluded from participating by new election laws which forbid people in custody from running for office. She is due to be released less than a week after the 7 November election.
Supporters of the polls say any move towards democracy, however flawed, is an improvement on the current military rule. Thirty-seven non-regime parties have registered for the elections, but few have a national presence and none have the money or influence of the pro-regime party and its proxies.
But critics of Burma's "road map to democracy", including Britain, the US and the UN, have dismissed the election as a sham, saying the poll will only entrench and formalise military rule.
"We don't regard the forthcoming elections as being a legitimate expression of public opinion," Jeremy Browne, a Foreign Office minister, said in Bangkok last month. "We continue to have a very strong view the situation in Burma is unacceptable."