Myanmar picks junta's PM as new 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.

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.

"This is not surprising. It is what we had expected," democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters. Suu Kyi's party won the previous elections in 1990 but was blocked at the time from taking power by the military. The party boycotted November's vote, calling it unfair.

In this Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010 file photo released by Myanmar News Agency, Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein casts his ballot for the elections in Naypyitaw, Myanmar's administrative capital.

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.

The country's two vice presidents are Tin Aung Myint Oo, also a retired member of the junta, and Sai Mauk Kham, a relatively unknown ethnic Shan doctor who runs a private clinic and is a member of the military-backed party.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962.

AFP

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