Yangon – Myanmar’s top three rulers resigned from the military Friday, a senior army source said, paving their way to assume the most powerful roles in the country after a parliamentary election in November.

The resignations mean military junta supremo Than Shwe and right-hand men, Muang Aye and Thura Shwe Man, are now civilians and can take the posts of president, vice president or government ministers after the November 7 polls, the first in two decades.

“All top leaders have given up their military positions and the vacant positions have been filled by juniors,” a military source told Reuters, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The government will be formed by a civilian president chosen by the upper and lower houses following the nomination of three people. The two unsuccessful candidates become vice presidents.

The shake-up raises the possibility of 77-year-old Than Shwe, Myanmar’s leader since 1992, being selected president, while his close allies Muang Aye, 72, and Thura Shwe Man, 62, become vice presidents.

Such appointments would reinforce a widely held view among political analysts that the elections amount to a charade in which Myanmar’s top generals simply exchange army fatigues for civilian clothes without altering the nation’s power structure.

It follows similar resignations earlier this year by 27 military officials, many of whom are now government ministers, which allows them to contest the polls under a party believed to be backed by the armed forces.

The source said it was likely Than Shwe would remain Myanmar’s head of state as leader of the State Peace and Development Council, as the junta calls itself, until the country’s president is chosen after the election.

COSMETIC CHANGE

The November 7 polls will be the first in the former Burma since 1990, when the party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi swept to victory but was denied the chance to rule. The result was ignored by the regime and annulled in March this year.

Critics have dismissed the polls as an elaborate stunt to cement the army’s grip on politics, with elected civilians given roles as lawmakers but powerless to veto policy decisions still likely to be made, or at least influenced, by the military.

According to Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, the November 7 ballot will elect lawmakers for parliament, the senate and 14 regional assemblies, but not the government itself.

The source said Adjutant General Thura Myint Aung, a highly respected career soldier among the top five generals in the ruling junta, would take over from Than Shwe as commander-in-chief.

He will be tasked with appointing of hundreds of lawmakers in parliament, the senate and regional assemblies, in accordance with a constitution that grants the military a quarter of seats across the entire legislature.

“This development now create a lot of interest around the world about these elections,” said Derek Tonkin, a Myanmar expert and former British ambassador to Thailand.

“The emergence of a new commander-in-chief and the timing of Than Shwe’s resignation will raise a lot of questions about what their motives are here.”

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alex Richardson)