By Aung Hla Tun and Jason Szep
NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - Myanmar President Thein Sein plans to reshuffle his cabinet and appoint a new vice-president to reduce the influence of anti-reform ministers and accelerate changes in the former pariah state, several lawmakers said.
The imminent reshuffle could sideline some hardliners by reducing their responsibilities in the 37-member cabinet or give them new roles, said the lawmakers.
"He needs to make the cabinet more vibrant and effective and he has to remove some conservatives who are reluctant to accept his reforms," said one lawmaker, who declined to be identified.
The first to go was first Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo, a former four-star general considered a leader of hardline remnants of the military junta that ruled for half a century and was close to its paramount leader, former dictator Than Shwe.
The joint upper and lower houses on Wednesday endorsed Tin Aung Myint Oo's resignation and house speaker Khin Aung Myint said the military delegates in both chambers would have until July 10 to choose his successor.
He was one of two vice-presidents chosen by lawmakers and submitted his resignation on May 3. Thein Sein did not accept it and instead gave him leave for two months, say lawmakers and several government officials. That has stoked speculation about his role, including rumors of his deteriorating health.
The pace of change in Myanmar, already dramatic, looks set to accelerate after Thein Sein, a former general, announced on June 19 a second wave of reforms that aim to triple the size of the economy in five years and modernize a backward state where a third of the population live below the poverty line.
Sources with knowledge of the reshuffle discussions expect two ministers to be axed when seven ministries are merged into three portfolios: agriculture, transport and electric power.
Two prominent ministers are likely to be reassigned to become more central to the reforms, with Rail Transportation Minister Aung Min - Thein Sein's top peace negotiator - becoming a president's office minister and Industry Minister Soe Thein, head of the country's Investment Commission, given the National Planning and Economic Development portfolio.
He would replace Tin Naing Thein, who would become Finance Minister in place of former general Hla Tun.
Tin Aung Myint Oo's resignation as vice-president coincided with the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD) — vilified for years by the former military government — filling several rows of seats in parliament, marking their transition from activists to lawmakers - minus their most famous dissident.
SUU KYI CRITICISED
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi came in for criticism for not showing up for the start of parliament and delaying until Monday when she will sit in the chamber. She cited exhaustion following her 17-day European tour that ended on Saturday.
"We have to recognize she is exhausted but we feel she should have prepared to come here," said Khine Maung Yi of a rival opposition party, the National Democratic Force (NDF).
NLD lawmaker Susu Lwin said she was disappointed by the lack of debate in parliament. "The way it is conducted is very tense. It would be better if it was less formal and we didn't have to submit questions in advance," she said in an interview.
The successor to Tin Aung Myint Oo will be chosen by armed forces delegates and is therefore almost certain to be another military man. The top contender is election commission chairman Tin Aye, a retired lieutenant-general well respected in the army and known as a moderate, who graduated from the elite Defense Services Academy in the same class as Thein Sein.
Thein Sein faces pressure from allies to strengthen his cabinet's ability to carry out reforms, particularly with resistance from conservatives likely to stiffen in coming months as the government attempts to open up an economy that has long benefited an elite with strong ties to the military. Continued...