Thursday, April 28, 2011

Myanmar president enlists confidante of opposition leader Suu Kyi as adviser

YANGON, Myanmar — An economist who is close to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday that he has been appointed to an advisory board by Myanmar’s new president.
The appointment of an associate of Suu Kyi to a high-level position in the new government is a surprise because the nominally civilian regime is dominated by her longtime foes in the military. Her party refused to take part in last year’s army-arranged polls — charging they were unfair — and Suu Kyi remains the face of the country’s opposition.

The new president, Thein Sein, is a former general and was once prime minister under the junta. He is now the leader of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in last November’s general election that critics dismissed as rigged in favor of the army.
The body, with advisers in economic, political and legal affairs, was announced on April 19 in the limited circulation Government Gazette, said U Myint, who will head the economic section. The state press has not yet reported the appointments.
The retired senior economist for the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific has advised Suu Kyi, a close friend, on economic affairs.
Asked if he might help bridge the gap between Suu Kyi and the new government, U Myint said it was not his mandate to bring about a dialogue and he had no intention of doing so, but he would try “to improve understanding and trust between the two parties.”
Describing the board as “something different” and innovative, he said his appointment showed that the government was willing to give a role to the academic community, but it was too early to say how successful it would be.
Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 until the nominal change to a civilian regime last month. The country became one of the poorest in Asia under military rule, and brain drain caused in part by the military’s undemocratic rule left the country with a shortage of skilled economic managers.
All three members of economic advisory section are civilian academics while the three members of the political body are former military officers and the legal group is headed by a retired police colonel.
U Myint said his first task is to work on the alleviation of rural poverty. He expressed confidence that he would be allowed to work freely but was less sure his advice would be taken.
“It’s easy to give advice, but we have to wait and see how it will be implemented and if there is the capacity,” he said.
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