Thursday, March 31, 2011

Myanmar military rule ends, Army retains grip

Myanmar's military handed power to a nominally civilian government after almost half a century of army rule today, as the junta was disbanded and a new President appointed.The army hierarchy retains a firm grip on power in the resource-rich Southeast Asian country, and many analysts believe Senior General Than Shwe will attempt to retain some sort of control behind the scenes.The handover came after controversial elections last November-the country's first in 20 years which were marred by the absence of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and claims of cheating and intimidation.Quoting an order signed by strongman Than Shwe, Myanmar state television reported the junta's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) "has been officially dissolved".

Than Shwe, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1992, is apparently no longer in the hitherto most powerful position of head of the army.But Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said, "Everyone will be required to report to him for quite some time."He added the handover was similar to the slow withdrawal of Than Shwe's predecessor, late dictator Ne Win."We have not had any kind of democracy in the past 50 years so it is more like an experiment," the Thailand-based analyst said."There are more questions than answers."
The SPDC, previously known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, seized power in 1988, but Myanmar has been under military authority since 1962 and the generals continue to dominate the impoverished nation.

Former prime minister Thein Sein, a key Than Shwe ally, was sworn in as President today.He is among a slew of generals who shed their army uniforms to contest the elections last year and are now civilian members of Parliament, which also has a quarter of its seats kept aside for the military.

An official said today's presidential inauguration was attended by General Min Aung Hlaing in a new guise as armed forces commander-in-chief, implying Than Shwe no longer holds the top military job.But the official added that "it's not clear yet" whether Min Aung Hlaing has officially taken over the army."Altogether 58 new cabinet members including the president, two vice presidents, officials and ministers were sworn in this morning at the Union Parliament" in Naypyidaw, the official added.

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