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Government officials in Burma said this morning that former prime minister Thein Sein, the leader of the election-winning Union Solidarity and Development Party, has been officially sworn in as the country’s new president.
State media also issued a broadcast just after midday today saying that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which has ruled Burma in various guises since 1988, has been dissolved at state and regional levels to make way for the new ruling party, the USDP, as the full transformation is readied.
It comes four months after Burma’s first elections in 20 years. Even prior to the vote, Thein Sein had been hotly tipped to take the top post, with the veteran military general known for his absolute loyalty to the junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe.
Thein Sein, who will turn 66 on 20 April, shed his army uniform to contest the country’s controversial November elections last year, and led the USDP to a landslide victory. The USDP now takes up 80 percent of seats in parliament and receives the tacit backing of the 300-plus pre-appointed military officials.
His swearing in, coupled with the dissolution of the SPDC, completes an official transfer of power from the ruling junta to what it claims is a civilian government. Critics say however that the overwhelming presence of former military officials in the new party casts doubt over those assertions.
A leaked US cable from 2009 describes Thein Sein as working “from the same script” as Than Shwe, while the latter’s biographer, Benedict Rogers, says the former prime minister is “regarded as a ‘mystery man’” who has “risen quietly under the patronage of junta chief”.
The ‘mystery man’ however appears on EU sanctions lists, along with other key members of the junta and its cronies, and has a military career spanning some 50 years.
The announcement also marks the end of the first session of parliament, which began on 31 January but isn’t due to sit again until later in the year.