VP Quit Rumors Grow with Photo No-Show

By The Irrawaddy 11 May 2012

The reported resignation of Burmese Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo became more that mere media speculation on Friday after a photo emerged which showed his empty seat at a cabinet meeting.

The image released on the President’s Office website showed President Thein Sein holding a meeting with his administration, but Tin Aung Myint Oo, who normally sits next to the head of state, was conspicuously absent. By contrast, Sai Mauk Kham, Burma’s other vice-president, was shown in his usual place.

The President’s Office launched its own website on Friday as the latest step in Burma’s current program of tentative democratic reforms.

Rumors that Tin Aung Myint Oo offered his resignation last month spread after he returned from a trip to Singapore which was apparently for medical treatment. The 61-year-old has not been seen in public or state-run media since the conjecture concerning his possible resignation.

However, the government has still not made an official announcement about his position and even banned local journals inside Burma from reporting the speculation. The latest photo from the President’s Office may not prove that Tin Aung Myint Oo has quit, although observers have taken it as a strong indication.

Tin Aung Myint Oo was one of the most powerful opponents of reform in Burma and widely regarded as a key figure in the government’s hardliner faction.

Reports of his resignation have been carried by many different media outlets. Tin Aung Myint Oo was among several hardliners slated to be “moved to different roles or have their responsibilities reduced” over concerns that they could become an obstacle to having Western sanctions lifted, claim sources close to the government.

Thein Sein and Tin Aung Myint Oo were both favorites of former junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who selected them to run in the 2010 general election as leaders of the military-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Than Shwe is also believed to have appointed them to their current government posts.

However, there have been persistent reports since last year that the pair are on bad terms. The clash may have had as much to do with personality differences as any power struggle—Thein Sein is widely regarded as the least corrupt of Burma’s former military leaders, and he and his family have no known connections with any of the country’s tycoons.

Some suspect, however, that he does not enjoy broad support within the government. The President’s Office is known to be displeased with several ministers’ performances and corruption scandals, although Thein Sein himself has also been criticized for the sluggish pace of reforms by Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, another key member of the former regime.