“Burmese usually love to bet on European football matches or the last two numbers on Thailand’s daily stock exchange,” said a businessman in Rangoon. “But this time, a lot of people were betting on who would be the new president.
“A well-known businessman who runs a private journal lost 10 million kyat (about US $10,000) to his friend after betting on Than Shwe,” he said.
Before the weekend, a majority of government officials, journalists, businessmen and INGO staffers said they assumed Than Shwe would either assume the presidential position or hand it to one of his closest aides, such as Shwe Mann.
“We [my friends and I] predicted that the senior general would taken the presidency since—under the 2008 constitution—the Head of State is the President,” said an automobile dealer in Rangoon. “I certainly had my money on him. Others bet on U Shwe Mann.”
Expectations were running high among many gamblers that Shwe Mann would “win” because Than Shwe reportedly introduced him to Chinese counterparts in September during a state visit to Beijing.
However, it is an open secret that Than Shwe likes to keep everyone guessing. Not even his closest allies pretend to know his next move.
Shwe Mann was not only considered a safe bet by several pundits, but he was also backed by some executives of a well-known NGO in Rangoon. Many said they believed the 63-year-old general could bring about some positive developments.
Leaked information from Naypyidaw at the weekend and on Monday suggested Than Shwe was going to nominate Prime Minister Thein Sein, not himself or Shwe Mann.
This came true on Friday when Parliament announced the appointment of Thein Sein as President and another top junta official, ex-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo, as Vice President alongside Sai Mauk Kham, a Shan MP from the junta’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Shwe Mann was elected by the Lower House as its speaker on Monday.
But although political observers and gamblers were interested in who would become President, most Burmese citizens were not.