With Myanmar’s all-powerful Defence Services C-in-C Senior General Min Aung Hlaing set to retire next year, speculations are rife about his successor.

Questions are also floating about how the new chief will handle a possibly more assertive NLD and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, fresh from their second runaway parliament poll victory.

Ming Aung Hlaing has been serving as Commander-in-Chief in two democratic governments, but he will turn 65 years in 2021.

According to the statement, issued by the National Security Council in 2016, Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services can serve until the age of 65.

The Myanmar military or Tatmadaw offered some hints in the press conference held on November 27 when their spokesperson said that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing might retire in the coming year.

If he steps down as expected, two generals are considered favourites to replace him – current Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Vice-Senior General Soe Win and Chief of General Staff (Army, Navy and Airforce) General Mya Tun Oo.

The current Commander-in-Chief is a graduate of the 19th batch of DSA.

Vice-Senior General Soe Win, from DSA batch-22, is already around 60 years old now. His age may go against him.

CGS General Mya Tun Oo, from DSA batch-25, is responsible for the budget of military and arms. But he has a stellar professional record both in field combat and staff roles and excelled in training courses.

He has served as the chief of military security affairs and commander of Eastern Central Command.

After that, he served as army chief of staff in the Department of Defense Army and is now serving as Chief of General Staff (Army, Navy and Air Force).

They don’t usually appoint someone from a younger batch as Commander-in-Chief. My Burmese military sources say the Tatmadaw is “obsessed with seniority”.

But if the Tatmadaw breaks that tradition and goes by merit, Mya Tun Oo could become the next Commander-in-Chief.

If he becomes Commander-in-Chief, someone from batch 26 might become Deputy Commander-in-Chief and a much junior Lieutenant General Thet Pon (batch 29) may become the Chief of General Staff, in line to be the chief in another 3 to 4 years.

But if none of these are chosen, Lt-Gen Myo Zaw Thein( batch 28), previously Yangon regional commander, and Lt-Gen Aung Soe ( batch-26) are the touted as the next in line choices.

NLD sources say the ruling party will try to push its choice this time in a rather determined way because at stake is his poll-time promise of further democratisation of the Burmese political system, which will never be complete without less military control.

“The country needs a military chief who sees the writing on the wall and agrees on key national goals like further democratisation, the creation of a genuine federal union and turning a political notary into a professional military,” said a senior NLD parliamentarian who had tabled a bill in the last session to lessen military control on the political system.

On condition of anonymity, he said his government will have to push through key amendments to the 2008 constitution and military chief who ‘plays along’ will be an asset.

Considering the Tatmadaw’s need to continue some degree of military control but also be pragmatic enough to democratize and federalize and professionalize the military, Mya Tun Oo emerges out of the closet as the man of the future.

But the Tatmadaw continues to be deeply conservative and assertive, so someone like Soe Win may just provide continuity with the past.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: sbhaum@gmail.com