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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    6 July 2012

Myanmar pro reform ministers to get promoted in reshuffle


Myanmar President Thein Sein's plan to reshuffle the Cabinet next week is set to see the sidelining of anti-reform ministers and pro-reform figures given key positions.

The Cabinet shake-up - three senior ministers are expected to be affected - would accelerate reforms, lawmakers told the media at the opening of a new parliamentary session in capital Naypyidaw yesterday.

A member of the Upper House, said, "He needs to make the Cabinet more vibrant and effective, and he has to remove some conservatives who are reluctant to accept his reforms."

The reshuffle comes at a time when there is concern that the momentum of change may be flagging, as major international corporations explore Myanmar but hold back on commitments because of doubts over the removal of Western sanctions, and also because they are waiting for legislation that would protect their assets and clarify rules for foreign companies operating there.

Yesterday, the resignation of Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo was officially acknowledged and accepted although, suffering from ill health, he had left office in early May. The former top general, who is closely linked to former junta chief Than Shwe, was seen as a leader among the hardliners in the 15-month-old government of Thein Sein.

Among the changes expected next week is the replacement of Minister for Information and Culture Kyaw Hsan with current Labour Minister Aung Gyi, a source in Yangon said.

Aung Gyi last year led the effort to thaw relations between the military and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Railways Minister Aung Min - who has successfully engineered ceasefire deals, is in charge of ongoing negotiations with a string of armed ethnic groups and is seen as a key reformist - may be moved to the President's office, the source said.

Commenting on the reshuffle, historian and author Thant Myint-U said the current Cabinet could be seen as 'inherited' from former military dictator Than Shwe's transition plan.

"It's not necessarily about hardliners and reformists," he said, noting the ministers would have a mix of opinions. "It's about performance; the President now has a better sense of the Cabinet, and he is showing a willingness to make tough political decisions to improve its effectiveness."

The reshuffle comes in a crucial month that will see debates in Parliament on recent sectarian violence in Rakhine state, and a new foreign investment law.

Some Myanmar business leaders have expressed concern that the proposed investment law could hand too much influence to multinationals, when domestic companies are still coping with the transition from state control and are in no position to compete with international brands.

On the other hand, the expected job creation has not yet materialised, partly because of the delay in the lifting of Western economic sanctions.

The European Union's suspension of sanctions will be reviewed in September.

The United States has lifted some sanctions but the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, which makes it difficult to lift sanctions, will likely be extended by another year. This has caused concern in Myanmar and among US businessmen, who are hoping a presidential order would supersede the Act.

Analysts and investors are increasingly saying it will not be possible to create tens of thousands of new jobs if sanctions are not suspended in practice.

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