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Myanmar: President Thein Sein surrounds himself with reform-minded allies in latest Cabinet reshuffle

Updated On: Aug 28, 2012

Following months of speculations and rumours, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has announced plans to reshuffle his cabinet on Monday, 27 August 2012.  Most of these changes will be in the economic ministries such as finance and economic development.  Other ministries affected by the reshuffling are the information, industry, and national planning ministries.  

The latest and largest change in the government, which sees the president surrounding himself with reform-minded allies by appointing four key ministers the joint role of minister of president’s office, is understood by many to be a way for the president to consolidate power and as a bid to speed up current reforms.  

According to a senior government official, “They will work for the president.  So the president will only need to make final decisions and he will have more time to work on the important matters”.  Among those four are Railway Minister Aung Min, who was instrumental in ceasefire negotiations with ethnic rebels.  The remaining three are Finance Minister Hla Tun, Industry Minister Soe Thein, and National Planning and Economic Development Minister Tin Naing Thein, individuals key to the president’s economic reform plans.  

In addition, the president has relegated prominent hardliner, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, to the role of Minister of Cooperatives.  The minor ministry is likely to be abolished in the future.  As Information Minister in the former ruling junta, Kyaw Hsan played a crucial role in controlling the media and restricting foreign journalists’ access to the country.  Taking his place as Information Minister will be the more moderate Labour Minister Aung Win, the former junta’s liaison with Aung Sung Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest.

The latest change to the government comes after the appointment of navy chief Admiral Nyan Tun as the replacement of another hardliner, Tin Aung Myint Oo earlier this month.  

A Myanmar analyst with IHS Global Insight, Jan Zalewski said that it is unclear why the president has announced this reshuffling but it is certain that the reshuffling was “very likely to have strengthened Thein Sein’s position in the government”, and that “[t]his bodes well for the longevity of reforms that have already been undertaken, and those that are yet to come”.    

Various reforms have been introduced in Myanmar since Thein Sein was elected president, and more reforms are likely to be introduced in the near future.

Report: Myanmar president shakes up reformist government [Channel NewsAsia, 27 August 2012].

Report: Myanmar president announced Cabinet reshuffle (The Straits Times, 27 August 2012].

Report: President of Myanmar Reshuffles His Cabinet [The New York Times, 27 August 2012].

Report: Burma president announces cabinet reshuffle [BBC News, 27 August 2012].