Junta retirees chosen as Myanmar's vice presidents

Myanmar's new parliament elected Thein Sein, prime minister in the outgoing military junta, as one of three vice presidents Thursday, making him a likely contender for president in the new military-dominated government.

The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962 and says the selection of the new government is the latest step in a transition to democracy, but critics call it a sham designed to cement military rule.

The army is essentially handpicking the new president from a pool of three vice presidents, though the combined houses will officially make the selection on Friday. The military's own delegates in parliament and their civilian allies hold an 80 percent majority in the new legislature, so the new leader is almost certain to be a top junta member.

State television and radio announced Thursday night that representatives of the military bloc in parliament had elected a senior junta leader, Tin Aung Myint Oo, as another vice president. He is a lieutenant general who, like Thein Sein, resigned his commission last year to run in November's election.

Thein Sein is former general who served as the junta's prime minister and heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in November general elections.

Thein Sein's seniority makes him the most likely candidate. He also has an image as a "clean" soldier, not engaged in corruption.

The third pick for vice president was Sai Mauk Kham, an ethnic Shan and doctor who runs a private clinic and is a member of the military-backed party, said Khin Shwe, an upper house lawmaker.

Sai Mauk Kham has not held prior political posts and is relatively unknown.

But no matter who becomes president, longtime junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe is expected to remain a dominant force in the country. One-quarter of the seats in each chamber are reserved for military appointees.

There has been little popular interest in the opening of parliament, which occurred Jan. 31, due to the widespread perception that the military cheated in the general elections. The party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the last elections in 1990 but was blocked from taking power by the military, boycotted the vote, calling it unfair.