Burma ex-Prime Minster Thein Sein named new president

Thein Sein (file image) Thein Sein ran as leader of the newly formed Union Solidarity and Development Party

Burma's parliament has named former general and outgoing prime minister Thein Sein as the country's first civilian president after nearly 50 years of military rule.

Thein Sein is an ally of top general Than Shwe. His vice-presidents will be Tin Aung Myint Oo and Sai Mauk Kham.

All three are members of the military-backed USDP party, which won a large majority in November's polls.

The election - Burma's first in 20 years - was widely condemned as a sham.

Thein Sein, a career soldier who first joined the military government in 1997, will now appoint ministers to serve in his new administration.

Critics say they expect most senior positions to go to other retired or still serving military officers.

Than Shwe, the general who has ruled Burma since 1992, did not run for the president and it remains unclear what role he will play in the future.

Analysts say the 77-year-old is unlikely to relinquish all power and is expected to either remain as head of the powerful military or take a significant behind-the-scenes political position.

'Experience and ideas'

Thein Sein was widely expected to become president after parliament's shortlist of five candidates was announced earlier this week.

He was one of some 20 military chiefs who stepped down from their army posts before the 7 November election to enable them to run as civilian candidates, in a move critics said was intended to secure the military's grip on power.

The 65-year-old is leader of the newly formed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won almost 77% of the vote in the election.

A USDP representative told the Democratic Voice of Burma that as a prime minister, Thein Sein "has a lot of experience and ideas, and is already familiar with the international community."

The appointment of a president is the final step in Burma's so-called "roadmap to democracy" - moving the country from military to civilian rule.

But a quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military.

The election, which was widely criticised by Western nations and the Burmese pro-democracy opposition, has left the military and its proxies firmly in control of the new parliament.

Vice-president Tin Aung Myint Oo was the outgoing regime's fifth-in-command; and Sai Mauk Kham, a member of the ethnic Shan group, is a member of the military-backed USDP but has not held political posts.

At the first sitting of parliament on Monday Thura Shwe Mann - the junta's number three leader who stood down from the military to run in the polls - was appointed lower house Speaker.

The former Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint was named as Speaker of the Upper House.

The Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, which won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power, is not represented in parliament.

It disbanded ahead of the November election because of election laws that would have forced it to expel its leaders.

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