Burma: Top General to 'Bow Out' of Elections

HANOI, Vietnam -- Burma's top leader Gen. Than Shwe will bow out of national elections next month, but his role in the country's political future remains unclear, a Southeast Asian diplomat said Thursday.

The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam, said Burma Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts that the longtime leader of the military-run country will not be on the ballot during the country's first elections in two decades on Nov. 7.

"He will bow out of the scene," the diplomat said, explaining what the Burma official said at an informal dinner Wednesday for delegates attending a summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "He will not be a candidate in the upcoming elections."

It was the first time the reclusive government confirmed that Than Shwe would not participate in the national polls. However, it was earlier believed that he would not run because his name did not appear on the candidates' list.

Than Shwe has never spoken about his future and no officials have ever broached the issue of his retirement or whether he would run in elections. He is widely expected to have some new role and title after elections. Many observers think he could become the next president, which is not an elected position

Reclusive Burma, also known as Myanmar, put on a fresh face at the conference in Hanoi, unveiling a redesigned flag and new national name less than two weeks before the long-awaited polling. However, many fear the makeover is merely a facade to mask elections that already have been dubbed a sham by critics.

The elections are supposed to be a move forward in the country's so-called roadmap to democracy following five decades of military rule. But critics say the junta already has taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the country's main opposition party and limiting campaigning.