Myanmar appointed a naval chief considered by some residents as a political moderate to be one of the country’s two vice presidents, after a former pick made in July was apparently disqualified.
Vice Adm. Nyan Tun, 58 years old, was sworn in early Wednesday, succeeding former vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo, who disappeared from public view earlier this year and eventually resigned, citing health reasons.
Myanmar officials initially named former general Myint Swe, who served as chief minister of the Yangon region and as a staff officer under former strongman Than Shwe, as the successor. But Myint Swe never assumed the role. Myanmar media reported that Myint Swe was ultimately rejected because one of his relatives is a foreign citizen, which would disqualify him for such a senior office under Myanmar laws. But government officials never formally explained the reason.
The vice president who resigned, Tin Aung Myint Oo, was considered a key conservative hard-liner who resisted change in Myanmar, which has embraced wide-ranging political and economic overhauls over the past year since a new, nominally-civilian government took power after decades of military rule.
The US and other Western nations have eased sanctions against Myanmar since the new government took over, but they still maintain some restrictions on the country as they wait to see if there is further reform. Many foreign leaders had been watching closely to see who would succeed Tin Aung Myint Oo, and whether he would be a figure considered to be more in line with reformist blocs led by Myanmar President Thein Sein.
Nyan Tun has been Myanmar’s naval commander since 2008, and he also served briefly in the country’s military intelligence in the 1980s.
Residents in Yangon Wednesday said he didn’t have a reputation of deep involvement in the alleged human-rights violations of Myanmar’s former military regime, though details about the new vice president remained hard to come by.
“He has a good reputation of straightness and being relatively educated due to his navy career,” said Maung Wuntha, president of a newly formed Myanmar Journalists Association in Yangon. “To my knowledge, he has no record of human rights abuse,” he said.
“He has enough experience and knowledge in management through his military career, though it may be something different from managing a country, especially during this critical juncture,” said Ko Ko Hlaing, an adviser to President Thein Sein. “I think he will be good enough to assist the president in democratic reform.”
Nyan Tun was nominated by military lawmakers who comprise 25 percent of the country’s legislature and retain the right to choose one of Myanmar’s two vice presidents. The other vice president, a leader from Myanmar’s Shan ethnic minority, isn’t widely believed to wield extensive power.
Nyan Tun’s reputation as a moderate “suggests that the point Thein Sein is really trying to make is to show that the reform drive continues,” said January Zalewski, an analyst with IHS Global Insight. Thein Sein earlier this year pledged to accelerate Myanmar’s economic overhauls, but many key changes – including a long-awaited foreign investment law that will clarify rules for multinational companies – haven’t yet been finalised. The delay of some new rules has led to widespread speculation that Thein Sein is facing opposition from conservative elements within the government, though government leaders have played down the existence of divisions.
Other analysts noted that Nyan Tun comes from a slightly younger generation of leaders than Thein Sein and other senior members of the government, which could limit his influence.
Residents and political observers widely expect to see further changes in the government, including a possible cabinet reshuffle that would supposedly strengthen Thein Sein’s hand and set his government more firmly on the path to reform. But that speculated reshuffle hasn’t materialised yet.
“A lot of people and investors are waiting patiently for something to happen, so now the government has to deliver,” Zalewski said.