Commanders of the Burmese armed forces (the Tatmadaw) began their final meeting of 2009 in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, with the proposed 2010 election reportedly high on the agenda.
The top junta brass meet every four months. The current meeting was postponed from October.
|High-ranking Burmese army officers watch a parade during Armed Forces Day in the administrative capital of Naypyidaw on March 27, 2009. (Photo: Getty Images)|
Observers say that, apart from the 2010 election, the meeting is expected to discuss tension with ethnic cease-fire groups over the proposed border guard force, US-Burma relations and the status of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the other top three generals might nominate potential Tatmadaw election candidates, observers say. The military-backed Constitution reserves 25 percent of the future upper and lower houses of parliament for military officers nominated by the Tatmadaw commander-in-chief.
“We can expect to hear something at the conclusion of the meeting,” a Rangoon-based journalist told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “All key military officials are attending. This is the last meeting of commanders in 2009, so they have to decide something.”
The meeting takes place as rumors circulate that the junta's No.2, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, is likely to retire from the military. Maung Aye has reportedly told his close friends that he would like to retire after the election to a house he is building in Naypyidaw.
“I've heard that Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye may retire from the military and politics, although Than Shwe is not likely to give up his military role,” said Chan Tun, a veteran Rangoon politician.
Other observers say Than Shwe has not yet decided whether to step down after the election and is not yet ready to name a date for the poll.
Under the 2008 constitution, the Tatmadaw and its commander-in-chief will hold a paramount position in Burma's power structure. The commander-in-chief will automatically act as a vice president, with authority to abolish parliament for reasons of security. Since the military takeover in 1962, whoever was in charge of the Tatmadaw has also controlled the whole country.
If Than Shwe resigns his Tatmadaw position, his No. 3, Gen Thura Swe Mann, 62, is well placed to succeed him, although the junta's No. 4, Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is three years younger, is also being named as a possible successor. No love is lost between the two generals.
The London-based think tank, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), in a Burma report in October, tipped Shwe Mann for the post, but said conflict within the leadership could threaten the Tatmadaw’s long-term grip on power.
“A post-election shuffle of positions, with appointments to newly-established posts of president and vice-president, could prove to be destabilizing,” said the EIU.
The junta's plan to transform the armed cease-fire groups into a Border Guard Force poses another threat to stability. The plan, first floated in April, is opposed by key cease-fire groups, including the biggest, the United Wa State Army. The junta has extended its deadline for acceptance of the plan for a further month, until the last week of December.
The possibility of fresh military offensives along the Sino-Burmese border and the possible Chinese response are also certainly on the Naypyidaw agenda.
The generals will also undoubtedly consider the initiative taken two weeks ago by Suu Kyi, who wrote to Than Shwe asking for a meeting and also for permission to meet leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). In her conciliatory letter, Suu Kyi also thanked the junta for allowing her to meet a visiting US delegation and western diplomats.
According to sources close to the NLD, the junta is likely to grant Suu Kyi’s request for a meeting with her party leaders, although it is uncertain whether the NLD vice-chairman ex-Gen Tin Oo, would be allowed to attend.
Tin Oo—the only former top general to oppose the junta—has been under house arrest since 2003 and the regime has consistently prevented him from meeting Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders. He is regarded by the junta as a traitor.