Is Tin Aung Myint Oo on His Way Out?

By The Irrawaddy 9 May 2012

Burmese Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo is famous for his foul mouth and being one of the former regime’s most corrupt generals. But recently, some visitors were astonished to see the battle-hardened military man preach teachings from the Buddha.

After celebrating the Thingyan water festival in Naypyidaw last month, Tin Aung Myint Oo flew to Singapore for medical treatment. Some officials said that he went there for an eye operation while the media outside of Burma reported that he was suffering from throat cancer.

Now press speculation outside the country indicates that Tin Aung Myint Oo submitted a letter of resignation on May 3. It has still not been confirmed whether President Thein Sein accepted this offer.

Although the government has still not publicly acknowledged these reports, official sources have confirmed to The Irrawaddy that they are accurate.

“Tin Aung Myint Oo has reportedly been diagnosed with throat cancer and is suffering from depression,” said a government source in Naypyidaw who also confirmed his resignation.

Although the government has not responded to the press speculation, a senior official at the Ministry of Information recently told Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma that media reports concerning Tin Aung Myint Oo were untrue and based on groundless rumor.

However, news of his resignation has spread like wildfire. It is astonishing to see that the same administration that gained praise from the international community for introducing tentative democratic reforms has declined to comment on this matter.

It appears that while Thein Sein’s government has been profusely expounding the merits of the fourth pillar, transparency and accountability, the censorship board is still putting pressure on local papers not to publish these reports concerning Tin Aung Myint Oo.

A business source in Rangoon said that Tin Aung Myint Oo has now joined the monkhood and is living in a monastery. Rumors of possible candidates to replace him as vice-president have emerged in case the former general has indeed retired or resigned.

Tin Aung Myint Oo stood as a parliamentary candidate for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, and was nominated as vice-president by armed forces delegates. If he resigned, the military will have to nominate a general to take over as vice-president.

Last year, he was seen inspecting several state projects in Burma, but this year he has disappeared from public view prompting speculation about his future and a possible reshuffle in Naypyidaw. A prominent member of powerful National Defense and Security Council, he is known to oppose several of the reformist political initiatives of the government. Thein Sein is also rumored to be locked in a power struggle with Tin Aung Myint Oo and his hardliner camp.

Burma’s first vice-president was considered to be a key figure in the quasi-civilian regime that came to power through widely-condemned rigged elections in 2010. Having graduated from the Defense Services Academy in 1970, he made his name fighting fierce battles against the Chinese-backed communists of northern Burma.

He served as Secretary-1 in the previous regime and was known to be one of its most corrupt generals. He forged close relations with tycoons in Burma and China and is believed to have siphoned off several million dollars from state projects.

Several generals who were once subject to Western sanctions were involved in the killing of civilians in peaceful demonstrations, and a government whistleblower recently revealed that a minister belonging to Tin Aung Myint Oo’s faction was involved in the slaughter of students when troops opened fire in front of the US Embassy in Rangoon in September 1988. With the backing of Tin Aung Myint Oo, the minister remained powerful and untouchable.

Thein Sein is known to have been one of the least corrupt generals among the ruling junta echelons and promised to tackle graft and lead a clean government when he became the head of state.

Ironically, Tin Aung Myint Oo remained untouchable. In Burma, the military is like a family and he once took care of the bank accounts and businesses of relatives of former junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe. In return, he was bestowed with the post of vice-president.

Perhaps if Tin Aung Myint Oo’s sickness is confirmed and he has indeed resigned, Thein Sein and his reformist colleagues will consider it a blessing in disguise.