Myanmar junta warns against disrupting 'democracy'
NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – The leader of Myanmar's junta warned against any "disruption" of the country's new military-dominated government, urging people Saturday to protect what he called the country's nascent "democracy system" a day after a Cabinet was approved.
Senior Gen. Than Shwe issued the call as the regime held a lavish national celebration at the isolated capital that will serve as headquarters for the new civilian government.
After decades of repressive military rule, critics say that Myanmar's self-described transition to democracy is a charade and that last year's election was orchestrated to perpetuate military rule. With one quarter of the seats in the new parliament filled by military appointees, and a lion's share of the remaining seats won by a military backed party, the army effectively retains power.
The future role of the junta — officially known as the State Peace and Development Council — remains unclear, though it is certain that the military will continue to be the dominant force in government.
Than Shwe's message on Saturday for Union Day called on the nation's citizens to build and safeguard a "democracy system" that is "still in its infancy."
He also urged people "to tackle any form of disruption to the new system."
The new parliament on Friday unanimously approved all of President-elect Thein Sein's Cabinet nominees, although they were not told which post each would take,
Thein Sein, who was elected by parliament last week, was prime minister and a top member of the military junta that is handing over power to the new government. It is not clear when he and his Cabinet will be sworn in.
Most of the Cabinet appointees are former military officers who retired in order to run in last November's elections — the country's first in 20 years — and about a dozen were ministers in the junta's Cabinet. Only four of the appointees are strictly civilian.
Than Shwe's speech was read out in an open space at the City Hall in Naypyitaw to celebrate Union Day, which marks the anniversary of a 1947 agreement among the country's ethnic groups that paved the way to independence from Britain. The ceremony was attended by lawmakers and new and old Cabinet members.
The army has held power in Myanmar since 1962.
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 November's vote, calling it unfair. Much of the international community also dismissed the elections as rigged in favor of the junta.
Suu Kyi's party was to hold its own separate ceremony to commemorate Union Day. It was Suu Kyi's father, Gen. Aung San, the country's independence hero, who met with ethnic minority leader to sign the agreement that the holiday commemorates.
In further celebration, the government opened a "Safari Park" in Naypyitaw Saturday morning.
The park, on nearly 300 acres (120 hectares) along the Yangon-Mandalay highway, holds animals from Asia, Australia and Africa, some of them brought to Myanmar on chartered flights.