Who Will Replace Tin Aung Myint Oo?

By Aung Zaw, Saffron Revolution 15 May 2012

The abrupt resignation of Burmese Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo has forced the government to hold several private meetings to find a suitable replacement candidate.

Although there has been no official announcement regarding Tin Aung Myint Oo, several Naypyidaw sources have confirmed that he has relinquishing his post.

A photo released on the new President’s Office website last week showed President Thein Sein holding a cabinet meeting, 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.

So Thein Sein and his close aides have spent the last week carefully studying a long list of candidates to fill the vacant vice-president position.

Some political observers suggested that one of the top contenders is Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, although many believe that the ambitious politician, who visited Europe last week, is likely to refuse the position.

Prior to the military-organized election in 2010, Shwe Mann was groomed to become president but found himself shelved by former junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe for some unknown reason. If the ambitious Shwe Mann is still eyeing the top job after the 2015 general elections, it is unlikely he would accept the current offer.

Also on the list is Tin Aye, chairman of the Election Commission, who remains a top contender. Lt-Gen Soe Win, deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Lt-Gen Hla Htay Win, of the Ministry of Defense, are also under consideration.

As Tin Aung Myint Oo stood as a parliamentary candidate for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and was nominated as vice-president by armed forces delegates, whoever becomes his replacement must also be nominated by the military.

Gen Tin Aye, who once chaired the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings—the armed forces’ business arm, is a friend of Thein Sein. There are rumors that Thein Sein wanted him to lead the ruling USDP but Shwe Mann, who was vice-chairman of the party, rejected this proposal. Tin Aye has traveled extensively to China, North Korea, Russia and Ukraine in the past in order to buy arms and military hardware.

However, another former general who is currently keeping a low profile is also a strong contender on the list, a government source has revealed.

Lt-Gen Myint Swe, currently chief minister for Rangoon Region, recently attended the opening of the European Union (EU) representative office in Burma. Together with EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myint Swe cut the ribbon to open the Rangoon office.

Myint Swe graduated from the 15th intake of the Defense Services Academy (DSA) in 1971 and rose steadily through the ranks to become the commanding officer of Light Infantry Division-11 overseeing security in the former capital.

The ethnic Mon was brought to the War Office where he worked directly under Than Shwe and Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye.

He then subsequently became brigadier-general as the commander of Southeast Region, before taking the post of head of the Bureau of Special Operations-5 that oversaw security affairs back in Rangoon.

Myint Swe was responsible for the careful execution of two high profile operations in Burma’s largest city—the arrest of Gen Ne Win’s family members in 2002 after an alleged coup conspiracy was uncovered, and the arrest of then-intelligence chief and Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt at its airport in 2004. He was then head of the newly formed Military Affairs Security department after the armed forces hierarchy dismantled the powerful intelligence units.

During the monk-led “Saffron Uprising” in 2007, Myint Swe was in charge of security affairs in Rangoon. But his campaign to pacify the Buddhist clergy with donations of cash, rice, cooking oil and medicine ultimately failed. However, he is believed to have been responsible for several raids on monasteries during this time.

In 2009, when he was promoted to quartermaster-general of the armed forces, or Tatmadaw, rumors circulated that he was Than Shwe’s choice to become the military’s next commander-in-chief.

This speculation proved misleading, however. Myint Swe was overlooked for all the top posts and was instead named chief minister of Rangoon Region. However, this remains a tactically important position as over the last decade he has always been involved in running the Burmese financial center in different capacities. Traditionally, only trusted and competent army officers were allowed to govern Rangoon.

Like Thein Sein, Myint Swe is known to be one of the least corrupt and approachable army officers, while gaining considerable support and respect in military circles. He is more senior than Vice-Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing who graduated from DSA Intake 19.

As Thein Sein seriously contemplates shaking up his cabinet as he searches for the ideal candidate to replace Tin Aung Myint Oo, who was known to be notoriously corrupt and a hardliner, the president’s team will be looking to fill this important position with someone who has a clean record, maintains respect and boasts a good public image plus strong military background. So it is no surprise to see Myint Swe’s name pop up once again.