Myanmar Army Backs General for Vice-President, Lawmaker Says

Myanmar’s army-appointed lawmakers are likely to support an active-duty general to replace one of two vice presidents who resigned this month, a ruling party legislator said.

The military, granted 25 percent of parliamentary seats by the constitution, will probably nominate either General Hla Htay Win or General Soe Win for the post, according to Saw Hla Tun, a member of President Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party. Parliament will start the process tomorrow to replace Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, he said.

“This new government needs someone from military leadership,” Saw Hla Tun, who is secretary of the lower house’s bill committee, said in a telephone interview on July 7. Those two generals “or other top military leadership” are preferable to the army, he said without elaborating.

Myanmar’s shift toward democracy over the past year led the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions, prompting investors to scout for opportunities in the country of 64 million people. The constitution allows the military to nominate a replacement for the vice president, making a cabinet shuffle that may occur soon more significant, according to Thant Myint-U, an author of two books on Myanmar.

“The reshuffle if it happens will almost certainly be part of an attempt by the president to strengthen his reform agenda,” he said by phone. “It’s not related to any factional struggle or ideological struggle -- it’s purely about performance and trying to make sure the president’s agenda is carried forward as effectively as possible.”

Economic Challenges

Htay Oo, the ruling party’s General Secretary, and U Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission, are also candidates for the vice president post, Saw Hla Tun said. Nay Zin Latt, an adviser to Thein Sein, declined to comment on the cabinet reshuffle.

Thein Sein last month pledged to create jobs and increase incomes while targeting economic growth of 7.7 percent per year until 2016, addressing what opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called a “time bomb” of youth unemployment. About a quarter of the population lives in poverty, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of employment and about three in four people don’t have access to electricity, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Coca-Cola Co. said last month it would return to Myanmar for the first time in 60 years once the U.S. government licenses the investment, while Kevin Thieneman, president of Caterpillar Asia, will co-lead a U.S. business delegation to the country next month. The Senate on June 29 confirmed Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar since 1990, part of moves to reward the nation’s leaders after Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat in April.

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