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.

Myanmar’s new parliament elected Thein Sein, prime minister in the outgoing military junta, as one of three vice-presidents on 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, who is selected by parliament from the three vice-presidents. 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.

On Thursday, the upper and lower house each selected a vice-president from a pool of five candidates announced earlier this week.

The most prominent among the five is Gen. Thein Sein, one of the lower house’s candidates. A former general, he served as the junta’s prime minister and also heads the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won a huge majority in the November general elections.

Gen. Thein Sein received 276 out of 325 votes in Thursday’s balloting, said Sai Hla Kyaw, a lower house lawmaker from the ethnic Shan party.

Gen. Thein Sein’s seniority makes him the most likely to become president. But no matter who fills the post, longtime junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe is expected to remain a dominant force in the country.

The upper house 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.

The inclusion of an ethnic minority member as a vice-president is an important gesture because conflict with the country’s sizable ethnic groups which seek greater autonomy has long posed a threat to national stability.

Military representatives in parliament are expected to name a third vice-president by Friday. The military has picked only one candidate for the post, Tin Aung Myint Oo, a retired top military figure who was also a senior junta member.

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 on January 31, due to the widespread perception that the military cheated in the general elections and has no true intention of paving the way for democracy.

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.

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