Myanmar’s ruling generals have said Myanmar is "not a dictatorship but rather a democracy under military control" and described the controversy over the 1990 election a misunderstanding. That election they said was held to chose constitutional government representatives not a government.

Until recently Myanmar was run by a military junta or regime made up of generals that collectively acted like dictatorship. The Burma-Myanmar military government changed its name from the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League in the 1940s and 50s to the Burma Socialist Programme Party in the 1960s and 70s to State Law and Order Restoration Council in the 1990s to The State Peace and Development Council in the 2000s.

A military regime known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was established in 1988 after the retirement of socialist-military dictator Ne Win, who seized power in a coup in 1962 and founded the the Burma Socialist Programme Party. SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. The SPDC had 12 to 20 members and was headed by a chairman. It operated much like a Communist politburo. It was very secretive. Understandings its inner workings was as mysterious as the inner workings of the leadership groups in China and North Korea. Some of the generals reportedly used soothsayers and fortunetellers to make decisions.

The military's unbroken, 49-year grip on power officially ended in March 2011, when the ruling State Peace and Development Council made way for a nominally civilian government led mostly by retired generals. The President of Myanmar is a former general named Thein Sein. The Myanmar still controls the military. It is unclear how much political influence it has and how power it wields behind the scenes.

In addition to running the government and the economy, the Myanmar military controls infrastructure works, the transport business and road building. The generals are shown on television taking endless tours of dams, hospitals and other projects. The generals have been able to survive as long a they have by enriching themselves and their regime with the few sources of income that Myanmar has and paying off or repressing those that threatened them and making peace with and putting down ethnic insurgents.

Aung San Suu Kyi told the Washington Post:“Our present constitution gives the military far too much power. Although the president is the head of state, he is not necessarily the highest power in the land. The commander in chief can take over all powers of government at any time he feels it to be necessary. That must be very difficult if you are in the position in which our president is. I don’t know how much support he has within the army. He himself is an army man, so I assume there must be considerable support for him in military circles. But that is just an assumption. I think the president is genuine about reform. I think there are those who support him in the government. Whether all people support him, I can’t answer. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]

History of Myanmar Under the Generals

The Tatmadaw (Burma-Myanmar’s military) was founded and trained by the Imperial Japanese Army. In World War II it helped expel the British-Indian Army and then switched sides and played a significant role during anti-Japanese campaigns. The Tatmadaw was driving force in establishment of Burma as an independent state and earned respect for that as well as for fighting insurgent groups in an effort to unify the country.

Because the Burma-Myanmar military has been dominant for so long it has it developed into an elite class. It attracts some of Myanmar’s best and brightest because it is one of few avenues of upward mobility in Burmese society. Many of Myanmar’s top generals were born in small villages and have humble backgrounds.

Bertil Lintner wrote in the Washington Post, “As such delusions of grandeur suggest, Burma is no ordinary military-ruled country. When the army first seized power in 1962, the country underwent a transformation entirely different from that of nearby countries such as Thailand, South Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan where the military was also in control. [Source: Bertil Lintner, Washington Post, September 30, 2007]

“That's because the Burmese army seized not only political but also economic power. What the generals branded "the Burmese Way to Socialism" meant that most private property was confiscated and handed over to military-run state corporations. The old mercantile elite, largely of Indian and Chinese origin, left the country — as did many of Burma's intellectuals. Before the 1962 coup, Burma had one of the highest living standards in Southeast Asia and a fairly well-educated population. Afterward, its prosperity fled along with its best and brightest.

“The Burmese Way to Socialism was abolished after a massive pro-democracy uprising in 1988, following years of misrule. At the time, even larger crowds than last week's took to the streets in Rangoon and other cities to vent their frustrations with a cruel regime that had done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary people. Then as now, soldiers were sent out to disperse the demonstrators, but using far deadlier force than we've seen in the current crisis. At least 3,000 people were gunned down by an army bent not on seizing power but on shoring up a bankrupt regime overwhelmed by popular protest.

After the bloodshed of 1988, perhaps to appease the international community, which condemned the carnage, and perhaps because the military saw that there was money to be made, the junta permitted private enterprise and foreign investment. But in essence, there's not much difference between the Burmese Way to Socialism and the Burmese Way to Capitalism: The military is still involved in every aspect of the economy, and few enterprises escape the direct or indirect control of the men in green. “

See After World War II History

Military Rule in Myanmar

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote:” The junta claims credit for modernizing Myanmar. It has doubled the size of the army and opened the isolated, impoverished country of 54 million people to foreign investment. It also ended fighting with several ethnic groups and built scores of new roads, bridges, pagodas and schools. [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, October 1, 2007 ]

“But its aggressive push to develop the country was not matched by progress in the political arena. Fearful of another 1988 uprising, it responded to its loss of the 1990 elections by refusing to hand over power and imprisoning Suu Kyi. History suggests the military will stay united... Soldiers have plenty of incentives to remain loyal—they and their families get better food, housing, health care and other benefits than ordinary Burmese.

“The generals' problem, said David Mathieson, a consultant with Human Rights Watch in Thailand, is that "They don't listen to their own population. They honestly think they are the only ones capable of doing this." Mary Callahan, of the University of Washington, said, "The military leadership may have disagreements and personality conflicts but those have never erupted into anything politically significant because they realized they are all better off sticking together."

Senior General Than Shwe, who led Myanmar until 2011 and “launched his military career fighting ethnic insurgencies, embodies the regime he heads. In the top leadership post since 1992, he is regularly on the front pages of state media in his drab military uniform. "He commands loyalty. He seems like the archetypal soldier," said Razali Ismail, a former U.N. special envoy to Burma who has met Than Shwe numerous times. "He believes himself to be very much a patriot, a nationalist. He speaks often about the sacrifices that he and his generation and his soldiers have made."

SLORC and the SPDC

After the 1988 demonstrations, Myanmar’s military regime began calling itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), a body led and formally founded by an unpredictable and deeply reviled general named Saw Maung. In November 1997, SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

According to Human Rights Watch, the name change “was not accompanied by any political liberalization. The state military or Tatmadaw, which had fewer than 200,000 men before 1988, announced a program to expand its strength to 500,000, and began much more intensive attacks throughout the country. This was facilitated by a mutiny in 1989 that caused the dissolution of the Communist Party of Burma, the country's largest opposition armed group. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

Repression and Suffering in Myanmar in the 1990s

In the 1990s pro-democracy supporters were evicted from their homes and had the businesses shut down. Family members lost their jobs. Many leaders of the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations were still in prison. Dissidents were periodically rounded up and sent to jail.

In February, 1995 nine people received prison sentences of seven years when they began chanting pro-democracy slogans at the funeral for U Nu, the last democratically elected Burmese Prime Minister. In 1995, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It has come to the point when we have to worry, not simply about the violations of human rights in Burma, but about the lawless activities of the authorities." After some of her supporters were arrested before a pro-democracy meeting Aung San Suu Kyi said, "If you're part of the movement for democracy in Burma, imprisonment is simply an occupational hazard."

In 1996, Win Thein U was given a 14 year prison sentence for having arranged a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and a group of farmers complaining about a poor harvests. In early June 1996, Aung San Suu Kyi's cousin U Aye Win and other supporters were arrested and given harsh prison sentences. A week or later, one of her personal aides, San Hlaain, disappeared while going to a video shop and was later seen in a prison. A well-known comedian was jailed in Mandalay after they performed at Suu Kyi's house, where he apparently mocked the SLORC government.

In the fall of 1998, about 1,000 Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters were arrested, including 200 MPs. In August 1998, Aung San Suu Kyi said, "As far as I can see there has been no improvement at all. In fact I could say that I’m inclined to think that things have gotten worse.” In a videotape smuggled out of Myanmar in May, 1999, Aung San Suu Kyi compared her struggle in Myanmar to a "battle." "A battlefield is not necessarily a place where people are shooting a each other," she said. "In civil society where basic human rights are ignored, where the rights of people are violated everyday, it is like a battlefield where lives are lost and people are crippled." She also said, "I don't think I myself alone can do anything. I think this is a fallacy to think that one person or even one organization can change a whole society.”

By 1999, the atmosphere in many parts of Myanmar was like a state under martial law or controlled by warlords. In Yangon beggars stood outside hotels with $500-a-night rooms and the stoplights in Yangon didn't work. The country as a whole suffered from runaway inflation and the collapse of health services. Universities were still closed and people were bored out of their minds because they couldn’t attend university or do a proper job. Most people survived as subsistence farmers but floods and droughts made growing rice, potatoes and other crops difficult.

Technically, the martial law restriction passed after the 1988 demonstration had been lifted, but still soldiers conducted random bed checks to make sure people were sleeping where they were supposed. The punishment for sleeping in an unauthorized place: 10 days in prison. By 1999, 40,000 members of the National League for Democracy Party had been persuaded to renounce their party.

See Sanctions.

Delaying Reforms

In the 1990s the Myanmar military government said it was working hard to fight drugs trafficking, open up the economy and make democratic reforms. But for the most part the opposition and the international community were discouraged by the slow pace of negotiations and the unwillingness of the military to make even the smallest concessions or changes. The leaders of Myanmar seemed intent on dragging their feet and delaying reform. They employed a strategy of making promises, and occasionally making a concession, such as releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, but mostly doing nothing except making the military stronger.

In the early 2000s, Iraq and Al Qaeda took the pressure off the Myanmar regime by focusing attention on the Middle East and terrorism.

The government released hundred of prisoners but hundreds more remained in prison. In the early 2000s, Amnesty International estimated there were 1,500 political prisoners in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi said this figure was probably a little high. A more likely figure was 500 to 600. While many were freed others were imprisoned

The exiled Burmese dissident Aung Zaw told the New York Times, the generals “are preparing to go to the very end with this confrontation. So if there is uprising they are ready to crack down. If there is a massive international reaction, they are prepared to withstand that. So they are prepared for the worst, either inside or outside the country.”

Leaders of the SPDC

In the 1990s and 2000s Myanmar government (the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC) was led by a troika: 1) Than Shwe, Senior General in the SPDC, the highest formal SPDC position; 2) Maung Aye, Deputy Senior General Army and army chief; and 3) Gen. Khin Nyunt, the Prime Minister and director of military intelligence and former first secretary.

In the 1990s Than Shwe was viewed as only a nominal leader who was not as powerful as Gen. Khin Nyunt. But by the 2000s he was regarded as No. 1, with Maung Aye as No. 2 and Khin Nyunt as No. 3. There was reportedly a lot of bad blood and rivalry between Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt. Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt reportedly worked together to oust Saw Maung, the leader of Myanmar from 1988 to 1991.

Than Shwe was regarded as a hardliner while Khin Nyunt was considered more liberal and willing to compromise with pro-democracy forces and the international community. Maung Aye was regarded as most suspicious and inward looking of the troika. He was sort of like the Myanmar equivalent of Li Peng.


Than Shwe became leader of the SPDC after the unpredictable and deeply reviled founder of the SLORC (SPDC), Gen. Saw Maung “retired” for health reason in 1991. Between 1992 and 2011, Than Shwe was the head of state of Myanmar and chairman of the SPDC, but during the 1990s he was regarded as one member of the ruling troika and didn’t really come into his own as the undisputed leader of Myanmar until the 2000s. Once a postal worker, he joined the army in 1953 and has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist while Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. During his rule he largely made no concessions to the democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi while Myanmar became one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world.

In 2006, Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “Than Shwe is acting more and more like one of those classic monarchs. Ten years ago, Burma was an authoritarian nation, but it lacked the strange personality cult of totalitarian states such as North Korea and Turkmenistan. At the time, Than Shwe was just one of three generals heading the ruling Burmese junta and, diplomats told me, was considered the most dimwitted of the three. He had given few speeches — just windy discussions of agriculture, supposedly a personal interest. But the dimwit has proven masterful; over the past five years, Than Shwe, 73, has pushed out rivals and consolidated power. Despite his shellacked hair, wide jowls and thick glasses, he has turned himself into an object of Dear Leader-like adoration. And his already isolated government has become more bizarre, even moving its entire capital in recent months to a remote jungle redoubt. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006]

Richard Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Than Shwe, “who assumed power at the head of a military committee in 1992, prefers to rule from behind the scenes. The junta, previously called the State Law and Order Restoration Council, is now known by the equally Orwellian State Peace and Development Committee. The general rose to power through the army psychological warfare unit and is reported to love Chinese kung fu movies. He is said to believe in numerology, popular in Myanmar, and rely on his fortuneteller for advice. The regime promotes the concept of "disciplined democracy," in which the army safeguards the rights of the people and is entitled to a prominent role in government. The regime says it cannot hand power to a civilian administration until it completes its new constitution, now 14 years in the making. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005]

Myanmar Under Than Shwe

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “By 1992, power had migrated to the man who ruled Burma until 2010: Senior General Than Shwe, a postal clerk turned psy-ops specialist, who was described by those around him, in a biography by Benedict Rogers, with telling consistency—“ Our leader is a very uneducated man” and “There were many intelligent soldiers, but he was not one of them.” The poverty of his people did nothing to curb Than Shwe’s ambitions. He once considered spending a billion dollars to buy Manchester United as a gift to his grandson, a soccer fan. In 2007, Burma was tied with Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International. In July, 2010, Than Shwe had been in power for eighteen years. He had a bullfrog frown and a chest covered with medals. “Foreign Policy” named him the world’s third-worst dictator, behind Kim Jong Il and Robert Mugabe. His aides shielded him from unwanted information, and the culture of isolation permeated his government. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012]

Describing how Myanmar evolved in the 1990s and 2000s while Than Shwe ruled, Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “People grew poorer and were stalked by disease and malnutrition. Schools and hospitals crumbled from neglect. Insurgencies raged along the rugged borders. The only real constant has been the junta which has run a promising nation into the ground. But there have been some positive changes too. A 2004 internal purge dealt a blow to a once fearsome spy network. A year later, the regime moved to a remote new capital it called Naypyidaw, or "the Abode of Kings." Suddenly people in Rangoon seemed to talk a little more freely. Mobile phones and the Internet arrived and, despite being costly and state-controlled, were embraced by thousands. Student activists jailed after the 1988 protests were released and quietly began regrouping. Then, two months ago, members of this self-styled '88 Generation hit the streets to protest the government's fuel-price hikes. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]

Than Shwe’s Character

Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “Reporters Without Borders, a press-freedom group based in France, recently described Than Shwe as a "notoriously paranoid general" who keeps himself virtually mummified from his own countrymen in the new capital, Naypyidaw, which his government built at great expense and moved to in late 2005. News reports indicate that the reclusive general seldom leaves his personal villa and rarely personally addresses the SPDC leadership. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007 ]

Than Shwe "makes very few public appearances, and most Burmese have never heard him speak", the press-freedom group said in a statement. "His militaristic speeches, harshly attacking the pro-democracy opposition, are read for him on the government radio and TV, and are given prominence by all government media." Myanmar officials seem to have as little sway over Than Shwe as outside leaders do, said Priscilla Clapp, the U.S. chief of mission in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. "Even people close to him, even some of the generals under his patronage, say they don't really know him," she said. To ordinary Myanmar citizens, he is even more of a mystery. Most people under his rule have never heard his voice — only his words read by newscasters on state TV and radio. On the rare occasions he ventures out, he rides in armored Land Cruisers with dark, mirrored windows.”

Maggie Farley wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2008, “A combination of superstition, intimidation and isolation has kept him and a coterie of hard-nosed generals in power here for 16 years. The 75-year-old Than Shwe has presided with an iron fist over a military regime that has been more successful at nurturing its power than its people, purging rivals and putting down uprisings. Than Shwe's shuffling, bulldog appearance belies a formidable tactician canny enough to court regional powers as a balance to the perceived threats of the West, astute enough to sign cease-fires with 17 insurgent groups to prevent a common front, and cruel enough to brutally crack down on Buddhist monks leading peaceful protests last year. [Source: Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008]

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: “Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who launched his military career fighting ethnic insurgencies, embodies the regime he heads. In the top leadership post since 1992, he is regularly on the front pages of state media in his drab military uniform. "He commands loyalty. He seems like the archetypal soldier," said Razali Ismail, a former U.N. special envoy to Myanmar who has met Than Shwe numerous times. "He believes himself to be very much a patriot, a nationalist. He speaks often about the sacrifices that he and his generation and his soldiers have made." [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, October 1, 2007 ]

“Described by Western diplomats who have met him as humorless, stiff and xenophobic, Than Shwe rarely says anything in public except at the annual Armed Forces Day _ an ostentatious display featuring as many as 15,000 troops and the latest military hardware from China, India and Russia. These days, Thang Shwe's declining health has forced him to remain mostly in Naypyitaw where he depends on cowed junior officers and even his astrologer for guidance, Myanmar analyst Larry Jagan and others said.

Than Shwe’s Life

Than Shwe was born in 1933 when Burma was under British imperial rule. He worked as a postal clerk before joining the army in 195. Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “Than Shwe, a high-school dropout was born when Myanmar was still under British colonial rule. Those formative years under foreign rule may explain his regime's still-frequent warnings that Britain and the United States support subversive elements aimed at stirring unrest inside Myanmar toward the alleged aim of overthrowing the military government and securing privileged access to the country's rich bounty of natural resources, including large unexploited deposits of oil and gas. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007 ]

“Yet his regime's own relentless truth-twisting, severe censorship, endless sloganeering, and rampant jingoism are often referred to as Orwellian and have earned Myanmar critical international rebukes, including frequently from the United Nations. Than Shwe has the credentials for national thought control, based on his work dating back to the 1950s in the army's Psychological Operations Department, when he was involved in churning out nationalistic propaganda.

Later, his well-established shoot-to-kill instincts, particularly in counterinsurgency campaigns against minority ethnic-Karen guerrillas in the country's eastern regions, earned him a promotion to captain in 1960. He quickly ingratiated himself to the military's top brass by helping General Ne Win seize power in a 1962 military coup, ending the country's short post-independence experiment with democracy.

Than Shwe Takes Power

Than Shwe helped Ne Win mount a 1962 coup against democratically elected government. He became head of SLORC, the body formed when military took control after the 1990 elections, and was appointed "Senior General" in 1992 (commander-in-chief of the armed forces) and later headed 12-member State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the junta that ruled Myanmar.

Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “Than Shwe steadily climbed the ranks, at crucial junctures favoring bullets over ballots. In the failed popular insurrection in 1988, Than Shwe and other military leaders crushed after city streets swelled with protesters. An estimated 3,000 people perished in that idealistic attempt to topple the regime and restore democracy. During the military's internal squabbling after 1988, Ne Win was ousted in a coup and Than Shwe rose to the new hardline military regime's top spot in 1992. Ne Win died under house arrest in 2002. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007 ]

“Than Shwe's all-encompassing official titles include commander-in-chief of the military and chairman of the junta's ruling body, which he helped re-brand as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) from its harsher-sounding earlier incarnation as the State Law and Order Restoration Council.

The Telegraph reported: “Like many despots, he blames his country’s woes on foreigners, and earlier this year he said the junta would “crush, hand-in-hand with the entire people, every danger of internal and external destructive elements obstructing the stability and development of the state”. A reclusive individual, he is rarely seen in public or even mentioned by state media, except at official occasions. But he has manoeuvred among the factions of the military to give himself a firm grip on power. [Source: The Telegraph, , September 24, 2007]

Myanmar Under Than Shwe

A firm hardliner and nationalist, Than Shwe is given some credit for helping to unify Myanmar by bringing the country’s myriad of squabbling and often hostile ethnic minorities under the fold. Under his rule the regime struck peace deals or ceasefires with almost all the ethnic minority militias, some of them drug-funded, fighting for independence.

Than Shwe ordered the construction of many dams and hydroelectric projects. He hails from the Kyaukse region, through which the Zawgyi River flows is widely rumored to believe himself a reincarnation of King Anawrahta, During his reign King Anawrahta was a prolific dam- and canal-builder, especially along the Zawgyi river. He viewed his hydro projects as atonement for killing his foster-brother Sokkate.

Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, General Than Shwe “is still obscure, often grimly hidden behind dark sunglasses and a military uniform decorated with medals. He is widely viewed, both at home and overseas, as the major stumbling block to national reconciliation and the restoration of democracy. The senior general is occasionally seen in local media saluting Myanmar's powerful armed forces at parades and other state ceremonies, his jowls framing a plump, sullen face. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007]

"Don't underestimate him," Leon de Riedmatten, who lived in Yangon for seven years while working for the Red Cross and later as a mediator, told the Los Angeles Times. "The people around him are all terrified." The rule of fear means the generals are out of touch with what is happening in their own country, a phenomenon that has led to poor policymaking and a population living on the edge of crisis even before the cyclone, said Charles Petrie, former U.N. resident coordinator in Myanmar. In an internal report, Petrie wrote that the regime ruled by "mutually strategic ignorance": Civil servants are afraid to report the truth about living conditions and the leaders don't want to hear it anyway. That has resulted in an official picture of a thriving, productive country that is far from the reality of a faltering nation with 30 percent of its people living in poverty. [Source: Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008 **]

Maggie Farley wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “U.S.-led sanctions against Myanmar have left Western governments groping as they try to assess the regime's state of mind. With no personal contact, the West can do little but speculate about motives. At the same time, many diplomats and analysts accept that Myanmar's generals have cleverly played neighboring nations against one another in a competition for the country's potentially lucrative oil and natural gas resources. The regime has shrewdly tapped the eagerness of investors from India, Thailand, Singapore and China to ensure that it is not without partners, nor beholden to any one country...But its response to the cyclone [in 2008] has disenchanted its outside allies as well as those within its military, who may start nudging the leaders to open up. ...ensions are already high with ethnic insurgent groups still awaiting the economic benefits promised under a long series of cease-fires. **

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “As Than Shwe travels the country, he stops in villages to issue so-called "necessary instructions" to peasants and officials on such subjects as construction and oil drilling, about which he knows nothing. When he arrives, the general often is greeted by rallies organized by the Union Solidarity Development Association, a government-linked national mass movement resembling fascist brownshirts. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006 +]

“Than Shwe's bizarre approach seems to be working for him. The domestic intelligence apparatus, consisting of thousands of informers, helps him keep control, and in Rangoon each night I noticed far more police and military checkpoints than I'd seen during previous trips. Since 1990, the size of the military has more than doubled. Though the United States has imposed sanctions on Burma, the regime has discovered new sources of revenue: Asian nations — in particular, China — have expanded their trade with Rangoon, and foreign firms have found sizable new gas reserves in Burma. +

By the late 2000s there were frequent rumors that Than Shwe was failing. He periodically went to Singapore for unspecified medical treatments. Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in The Asia Times, “Some analysts wonder whether he still has the mental facilities and political judgment to manage the current crisis roiling his regime.”

Than Shwe’s Weirdness and Personality Cult

Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, Than Shwe “regards himself as a modern king, the rightful heir of the ancient Burmese rulers and someone who should not be questioned, said Priscilla Clapp, the U.S. chief of mission in Myanmar from 1999 to 2002. "Whenever he left the country, foreign diplomats had to go to the airport and line up on one side of the red carpet," she said. "He expects everyone to bow down to him." A diplomat told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “When Than Shwe nods his head it means yes. When he shakes his head its no. It’s no use trying to guess the future direction of Myanmar policy in light of past experience.” [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007]

Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: “In recent years, as his health has declined, Than Shwe's behavior has become increasingly bizarre, diplomats and analyst said. Almost overnight, he moved the capital in 2005 to an isolated jungle outpost 250 miles north of Yangon and named it Naypyitaw or "Royal City." To mark his first Armed Forces Day there, he built gigantic statues of former Burmese kings, a Western diplomat recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He has regal pretensions." This year, the 74-year-old general used the occasion to warn that the nation still faces danger from "powerful countries" that are trying to weaken the military. "They will try to sow the seeds of discord and dissension not only among national races but also within each particular ethnic group in various spheres such as religion, ideologies, social classes," he said. [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, October 1, 2007]

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “Nightly television broadcasts are centered around Than Shwe: Than Shwe giving alms to monks; Than Shwe welcoming foreign visitors; Than Shwe blessing crops, as if he had the power to bring rain. Some observers say broadcasts feature Than Shwe with his grandson, to perpetuate the idea of a dynasty in the making. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006 +]

“This personalization of rule has made the regime more paranoid and unpredictable. When a bomb exploded in Rangoon last year, the regime blamed it on democracy activists and unnamed foreign powers — i.e., the CIA. When the International Labor Organization criticized Burma, the country threatened to pull out of the organization. Than Shwe's regime has expressed a desire to obtain nuclear technology, which it could potentially finance from sales of newly discovered petroleum deposits. The government has also developed a closer relationship with North Korea.+

“The personalization of rule has proved disastrous for average Burmese. A nation rich in resources has fallen to among the poorest in Southeast Asia, with health indicators equivalent to those of sub-Saharan Africa. (The government claims implausibly high growth rates of some 13 percent.) In years of traveling to Burma, I have never seen the population more desperate than this March. Beggars crowd Rangoon's sidewalks at night, or sleep in slag piles underneath half-finished construction sites. +

“At the same time, the senior general has begun acting like a king. The general's relatives now refer to each other by royal titles, according to Burma analyst Aung Zaw; on a visit to India, Than Shwe reportedly required that people sit on the floor beneath him, in tribute to his self-appointed royal status. According to Bangkok-based Burma analyst Larry Jagan, the general has built a palatial residence complete with pillars coated in jade and Italian slate costing millions of dollars. When Than Shwe became dissatisfied with the Italian slate, he had it pulled out and replaced with even more expensive Chinese marble. +

Wikileaks Cables: Myanmar General Considered Buying Manchester United

Former Myanmar leader Than Shwe once considered spending a billion dollars to buy Manchester United as a gift to his grandson, a soccer fan.

Robert Booth wrote in The Guardian: “The leader of Burma's military junta considered making a $1 billion (£634m) bid to buy Manchester United football club around the time it was facing rising anger from the United Nations over its "unacceptably slow" response to cyclone Nargis.Than Shwe, commander in chief of the armed forces and a fan of United, was urged to mount a takeover bid by his grandson, according to a cable from the US embassy in Rangoon. It details how the regime was thought to be using football to distract its population from ongoing political and economic problems. The proposal was made prior to January 2009; only months earlier, in May 2008, the Burmese junta had been accused of blocking vital international aid supplies after Nargis struck, killing 140,000 people. [Source: Robert Booth, The Guardian, December 6, 2010 ^]

“Than Shwe reportedly concluded that making a bid for United might "look bad" at the time, but the revelation that the proposal was even considered is likely to fuel criticism of the regime's cruelty. The senior general instead ordered the creation of a new multimillion dollar national football league at the same time as aid agencies were reporting that one year on, many survivors of the cyclone still lacked permanent housing, access to clean water, and tools for fishing and agriculture. ^

“The mooted price tag for Manchester United was exactly the same as the aid bill to cover the most urgent food, agriculture and housing for the three years after the cyclone, as estimated by international agencies including the UN. The proposal revealed that the regime, which is increasingly exploiting its oil and gas reserves, felt confident of finding such a sum. According to Forbes magazine's valuation of the club at the time, $1 billion would have been enough to acquire a 56 percent controlling stake. ^

"One well-connected source reports that the grandson wanted Than Shwe to offer $1 billion for Manchester United," said the June 2009 cable to Washington. "The senior general thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own." Than Shwe then reportedly coerced and bribed eight leading business and political figures to establish teams and ordered them to spend large sums on imported players and new stadiums. ^

“The cable revealed that in January 2009, selected Burmese business people were told "that Than Shwe had 'chosen' them to be the owners of the new professional soccer teams. [The informant, a top executive at one of the sponsor companies] said the owners are responsible for paying all costs, including team salaries, housing and transportation, uniform costs, and advertising for the new league. In addition, owners must build new stadiums in their respective regions by 2011, at an estimated cost of $1 million per stadium." ^

“The Magway team was spending $155,000 a month on salaries while the Kanbawza team, linked to a bank, had budgeted $2 million for the 2009 season. Rangoon United hired five players from Africa and Delta United recruited several Argentinians. "When asked why the owners would participate in such an expensive endeavour, [an executive with one company sponsor] observed that they had little choice," the embassy reported. "'When the senior general asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints,' he stated." ^

“He added that several of the business people expected to receive incentives from the regime, such as construction contracts, new gem and jade mines, and import permits, which would more than offset their costs. The owners of the clubs in the Burma national football league, which launched on 16 May 2009, include "regime crony" Zaw Zaw, who also chairs Burma's football federation and drew up plans for the league with the senior general's grandson. "Zaw Zaw hired Senior General Than Shwe's grandson to play on the team," a separate cable adds. But according to the dispatch, "many Burmese businessmen speculate the regime is using it as a way to distract the populace from ongoing political and economic problems or to divert their attention from criticism of the upcoming 2010 elections". ^

Than Shwe, Buddhism, Astrology and Pagodas

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “One thousand years ago, Burma's monarchs built pagodas and other religious structures — more than 4,000 of them, in the central Bagan plains — to demonstrate the power of the throne, to earn merit for their next life and perhaps to atone for some of their sins in this one. Like Burmese monarchs of old, Than Shwe also has embarked on a pagoda-building spree. The state-run press lauds each new monument by printing Pravda-esque encomiums and running photos of Than Shwe receiving blessings from monks. As Jagan notes, the government produced a film in which the face of a famous 11th-century Burmese king, who fashioned a glorious empire, morphs into the face of Than Shwe. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006]

Joshua Hammer wrote in Smithsonian magazine, Than Shwe “visited Buddhist temples often and lavished money on them, following the advice of soothsayers, who assured him that such “merits” would bolster his power. Like many of his predecessors, Than Shwe fused his Buddhism with belief in nats, or spirits, and yadaya, magic rituals performed to ward off misfortune. [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian magazine, September 2012 =]

“Than Shwe was a frequent visitor to Bagan, the ancient capital sprawled across an arid plain on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. On a hot morning, I mount steps to the plaza of Sinmyarshin Temple, an ornate 13th-century structure with a stupa sheathed in gold leaf. Than Shwe visited the temple frequently and paid to regild it in 1997. “Than Shwe’s soothsayer advised him to adopt Sinmyarshin after consulting his astrological chart,” my guide tells me. Inside, Than Shwe restored 800-year-old frescoes depicting the Buddha’s life. =

“In May 2009, Than Shwe’s wife, Kyiang Kyiang, attended a rededication of 2,300-year-old Danok Pagoda outside Yangon and placed a jewel-encrusted hti, or sacred umbrella, atop the spire. Three weeks later, the temple collapsed, killing about 20 workers who were rehabilitating it. “It is a sign that [Than Shwe] has done so many evil things that he no longer has the ability to make merit,” said U.S. anthropologist Ingrid Jordt at the time. Many Burmese believe that Than Shwe was so shaken by Danok’s collapse that, soon after, he released Aung San Suu Kyi and decided to step down—as a means of escaping his karmic destiny. =

Maggie Farley wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Than Shwe does pay close attention to the stars. His astrologers predicted that a disaster would befall the city of Yangon. So in November 2005, he moved the seat of government from there. It now resides in a mountain hamlet known as Naypyidaw, "abode of kings." Usually, the senior general takes counsel only from his fortunetellers, whom he talks to first thing every morning, diplomats say. [Source: Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008]

Than Shwe’s Daughter’s Lavish Wedding

One of Than Shwe’s few trips outside the capital was to his daughter's wedding in Yangon, in 2006. The event angered many Burmese because it cost $300,000 and the couple received wedding gifts worth $50 million, according to The Irrawaddy. Michael Casey of Associated Press wrote: Than Shwe’s “government suffered a rare paparazzi-style scandal, when a 10-minute video clip, filmed at the wedding in the old capital Yangon, surfaced on the Internet purporting to show the bride, Thandar Shwe, swathed in sumptuous jewels - revealing the utter disparity in wealth between the military elite and the impoverished general population. The champagne, five-star comforts and other opulence became a sore point among exile-based dissidents and the butt of jokes mocking Than Shwe and the junta's insistence that his military regime is not corrupt.” The same week the video appeared Transparency International ranked Myanmar, along with Somalia, as the most corrupt country in the world. [Source: Michael Casey, Associated Press, October 1, 2007]

Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “Strings of diamonds, cascades of champagne and tens of millions of dollars worth of gifts would be considered ostentatious at any wedding. But in Burma - one of the poorest countries in Asia - people are said to be up in arms at the luxury on display in a video of the wedding laid on by the head of the junta, General Than Shwe, for his daughter...Opponents of the military regime claim that spending on the couple’s marriage in July was more than three times the state health budget. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 2, 2006 /]

“In the most opulent sequence, the camera zooms in on glittering jewelled clusters in the hair of the bride, Thandar Shwe, then pans down from her diamond ear-studs to at least six thick strings of what appear to be diamonds. At a lavish reception, the groom - Major Zw Phyo Win, an army officer and deputy director at the ministry of commerce - pours champagne over a cascade of glasses and helps his bride slice into a five-tiered cake. What is not seen are the gifts, which reportedly include luxury cars and houses worth a total of $50m (£26m). According to south-east Asian newspapers, the rush to buy jewels as presents and decorations pushed up the price of precious stones in the run-up to the wedding. The wedding video appears to have been filmed with the approval of the the married couple and guests. It is unclear how it was leaked on to the internet or how widely it can be seen in Burma. /\

“Such mindless indulgence - smiling, well-fed guests wrapped in their finest clothing and most expensive jewels - is an affront to the millions of Burmese suffering under the incompetence and brutality of the country’s military leadership, and the millions of Burmese migrants trying to scratch out a living on foreign soil because no proper employment is available at home,” wrote editor Aung Zaw in Irrawaddy. “Than Shwe was the one who accused other top leaders of corruption whenever he wanted to remove them. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.” /\

“The minutiae of the wedding arrangements provided material for observers of the secretive regime who believe Than Shwe may be preparing to step back from the day-to-day running of the country. “In the seating arrangement, Than Shwe and his deputy were on one table and all the other junta members were on a very distant table. That tells you a lot about the hierarchy,” Soe Aung of the Bangkok-based National Council for the Union of Burma was quoted as saying by Reuters. In footage of the ceremony at a state hall in Yangon, Than Shwe walks beside his daughter in white shirt and a traditional orange wrap called a longgyi, a rare sight of a general almost always seen in military uniform. Many other guests were in uniform. /\

Than Shwe and the New Capital at Naypyidaw

Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “The introverted and superstitious leader is also known to be the driving force behind the junta's bizarre decision to move the national capital 400 kilometers north from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2005. Some political analysts have speculated that the new capital was built toward the aim of re-establishing the country's long-abolished monarchy as part of a broader political transition where Than Shwe would assume a newly established throne. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007]

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “Though Rangoon had served as the capital for a century, Than Shwe ordered a vast complex built in Pyinmana, complete with bunkers, tunnels, his palace and extensive protections — just in case the CIA attacks.” One morning in November 2006— “at a time Burmese believe to be chosen by a court astrologer — the regime started moving civil servants and military officials to Pyinmana in massive truck convoys laden with furniture. By March, dozens of construction companies were furiously building there, and Burmese exile groups were claiming that the government had forced people out of their homes to make way for the construction. Burma's information minister told reporters that Pyinmana "has quick access to all parts of the country" and thus would be easy to get in and out of, even though it previously had no real airport. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006]

Describing a meeting in the capital between Than Shwe and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, John Heilprin of Associated Press wrote: “Than Shwe and the U.N. chief sat side by side on throne-like chairs with floral upholstery, separated by a bouquet of pink and white flowers and a silver tea set. Chandeliers and ceiling-high depictions of golden pagodas adorned the room. "He told me that he has never had any such candid meeting with anybody else in the world," Ban said. The senior general, who failed to complete high school, had repeatedly ignored Ban's phone calls and letters immediately after the cyclone.Than Shwe thanked Ban for his letters, and apologized for not replying, U.N. officials said. [Source: John Heilprin, Associated Press, May 30, 2008]

He and two top officials who greeted Ban wore matching khaki-green military uniforms laden with medals, their neatly pressed shirts open at the neck. Only rarely has Than Shwe been seen in civilian clothes....In person, Than Shwe is more diminutive than his larger-than-life public persona. Short and bespectacled, the stocky 76-year-old who is known as "the bulldog" was silent when asked by a Western reporter if he had any comment for the outside world. Behind the giant wooden doors, Than Shwe did all the talking for the first 50 minutes of the two-hour-and-10-minute meeting, according to U.N. officials. At the end, Ban walked away with a promise of more access for foreign aid workers to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta region.

Than Shwe, Human Rights Abuses, Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s Isolation

Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “Rights groups in Thailand have studiously chronicled the military regime's abuses, including well-documented allegations of forced labor, torture, systematic rape and the ill-treatment of many of the country's estimated 1,200 political prisoners. For many of those charges, rights groups contend, Than Shwe could be held directly responsible in an eventual international tribunal. Several hundred monks and protesters remain in jail after the September 2007 protests, including someone who had been spotted on a video handing water to the monks, according to an internal U.N. report. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007 ]

“Perhaps because of that record, Than Shwe has been the isolationist counter-force to moderates in the military leadership who have favored more engagement with the outside world and perhaps a more conciliatory approach to the political opposition. Than Shwe broke off the United Nations-supported secret dialogue with the political opposition in 2003 and he is known to harbor a personal grudge toward Aung San Suu Kyi, which has hampered national-reconciliation initiatives. He reportedly reluctantly signed off on then-SPDC secretary No 1 Khin Nyunt's drive to have Myanmar elevated into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997. However, membership failed to deliver the immediate economic gains the SPDC first envisaged, because of the regional financial crisis, and has more recently opened his government to more criticism of the SPDC's abysmal rights record and more neighborly pressure to implement democratic reforms. Khin Nyunt was removed in an internal 2004 purge.

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “Burma's metamorphosis into a more North Korea-esque state began in 2003. After holding pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest on and off for more than a decade, the junta freed her in 2002, supposedly at the prodding of the most liberal of the three generals, Khin Nyunt. Optimism reigned, and Suu Kyi traveled throughout Burma announcing "a new dawn for the country." Then Than Shwe stepped in. Suspicious of Suu Kyi, paranoid about the outside world and allegedly fearful of his own people, the senior general cut short any Burmese spring. In May 2003, thugs attacked Suu Kyi's convoy on a rural road, leaving 70 or more people dead; the U.S. State Department has publicly said that there is credible evidence that Lt. Gen. Soe Win, a close associate of Than Shwe, masterminded the massacre. Than Shwe has since held Suu Kyi under house arrest. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006]

The xenophobic Than Shwe has closed local publications and started pushing out the small number of international organizations in Rangoon. The Burmese regime essentially evicted the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Swiss-based peace and reconciliation group with a long history in Rangoon. "Every NGO in Rangoon now is worried," one expatriate in the capital told me, noting that nongovernmental organizations also are being told they must funnel budgets through the state.

Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi

Than Shwe was strongly opposed to negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi and was said to despise her sp vehemently that his aides were forbidden to mention her name in his presence. But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1990s it was reported that Suu Kyi liked Than Shwe. The decision to release Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 was reportedly made by Than Shwe. "He was the sole person to decide," one officer told Time. "Once his decisions are made, the rest of the bureaucracy was bound to follow." Suu Kyi and Than Shwe talked with each other only when she has been in detention. They met only once before 2008: in 2002. The talks quickly broke down.

Joshua Hammer received in Smithsonian magazine, Than Shwe “harbored a deep antipathy toward her, and even reportedly used black magic rituals against her.” “I don’t want to portray [Than Shwe] as a brutal, mindless personality, because I don’t know him well enough,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.“I felt...intense irritation and impatience. I listened to the radio every day for many hours, so I knew what was going on in Burma, the economic problems, the poverty, so many things that needed to be rectified...I thought, ‘Why are we wasting our time?’” Then she would turn to meditation and “24 hours later . . . those feelings would subside.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian magazine, September 2012]

Win Htein, Aung San Suu Kyi’s former personal assistant, who came to know Than Shwe when they served together in the Burmese Army in the 1960s and 70s told The New Yorker: “In 1994, there was a meeting with him and Aung San Suu Kyi. She asked me what was my opinion of her meeting him. And I told her, ‘That is nonsense. Nothing will come of it. I know them.’ I said, ‘I know their mentality.’ ” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

In a 2005 meeting between then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Than Shwe in Jakarta, Indonesia, Annan mentioned her name. "The generals and staff all closed their notebooks, stood in unison and walked out the door," said Steve Stedman, the then-assistant secretary-general, who was at the meeting, told the Los Angeles Times. "It was one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen and left me thinking that these people really are out of touch with the rest of the world." [Source: Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008]

Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt, See Khin Nyunt

Decline of Than Shwe

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “For years, the regime was able to overlook its people’s contempt, but that became impossible in September, 2007, when tens of thousands of monks streamed into Rangoon to lead protests that became known as the Saffron Revolution. The Army opened fire, killing monks and civilians and arresting thousands. As Than Shwe aged, he and his compatriots confronted growing worries about their future. By 2010, the U.N. had escalated its accusations to the level of suspected war crimes, and Than Shwe told visitors that he had what the U.S. Embassy, in a cable released by Wiki- Leaks, called a “strong desire not to appear before an international tribunal.” Moreover, it was beginning to seem likely that if a prosecution materialized the top man would not be the only target; the U.N. had concluded that state violence originated in the “executive, military and judiciary at all levels.” If change was going to happen, time was running out. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012]

Than Shwe and Cyclone Nargis

Maggie Farley wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In the hours after Tropical Cyclone Nargis ravaged Myanmar, U.N. officials tried to call the country's top leader to offer help. For several days, they got no answer and wondered whether Senior Gen. Than Shwe had gone into hiding, or even fled the storm-battered country. Finally, the real reason became clear: Than Shwe didn't really want their help. A week after the cyclone swept the Irrawaddy River delta, Than Shwe made his first appearance — not to comfort the victims of the country's worst storm in living memory, but to vote on a referendum enshrining the government's power. Instead of reassuring people that he was in control, the TV footage of him shakily walking to the ballot box with an aide at his elbow reinforced rumors that he is seriously ill, exiled activists said. [Source: Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2008 ** ]

“The images also captured the core reasons behind Than Shwe's compulsive grip on power. With several top rulers in failing health and a constitutional redistribution of power underway, the regime is in a fragile generational and structural transition, which makes the leadership extremely wary about any challenge or change from outside or below. And in the last 10 months, army officers and soldiers have been experiencing sacrifice close to home. The cyclone struck some of the same population at the center of the protests last year: the Bamar ethnic group, which makes up most of the military. **

“Disgruntled officers have complained about the government to exile publications, a rare and risky step. That means the regime has been facing a post-cyclone dilemma, analysts say: It can open up the delta to foreign aid groups and risk outside influence seeping in. Or it can risk more deaths from disease by keeping the area largely closed, which may cause many in the military to question the legitimacy of a leadership that doesn't take care of its own people. Clapp, the former U.S. chief of mission, said Than Shwe may be an absolute ruler, but the government is not monolithic. "I don't think the government can be toppled," she said. "I think it will morph into something over time, a negotiated transition with the military." **

Than Shwe and Myanmar’s Junta Leaders Quit Their Military Posts

In August 2010, Reuters reported: “Myanmar's top three rulers resigned from the military on 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 Nov. 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. [Source: Reuters, August 27, 2010]

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. 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.

Than Shwe Retires

In February 2011, a few days after parliamentary elections, the BBC reported: “Burma's long-standing leader Than Shwe is not on a list of presidential nominees, suggesting he will no longer be the country's official ruler. Parliament has put forward five names, reports say, from which a president and two vice-presidents will be selected. The most prominent figure listed is Thein Sein, the prime minister in the outgoing military government, and a trusted ally of Than Shwe. [Source: BBC, February 1, 2011]

Analysts believe Than Shwe will remain a dominant force in Burma. Some analysts say the 77-year-old general is unlikely to relinquish all power and is expected to either remain as head of the powerful military or take a significant behind-the-scenes political position. Speaking to the BBC's World Have Your Say programme, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said that it was too early to assess what effect Than Shwe's apparent decision not to seek the role of president would have. "I am not sure what role General Than Shwe is going to play in the future. All I know is that he does not seem to be on the list," she said. "Whoever is in charge of the army will have at least as much power and influence, if not more, than the president himself," she said. The appointment of a president was the final step in Burma's so-called "roadmap to democracy".

In April 2011, AFP reported: “Myanmar strongman Than Shwe, who ruled with an iron fist for almost two decades, has retired as head of the military after handing power to a nominally civilian government, officials said today. The postman-turned-dictator last week disbanded the Junta, the State Peace and Development Council, following the November polls. “Senior General Than Shwe and Vice-Senior General Maung Aye retired on March 30 after handing over power to the new government. They are staying at their homes in Naypyidaw. We cannot say their plan for the future. So far they are taking a rest,” a Myanmar official told AFP on condition of anonymity. [Source: AFP, April 4, 2011]

In November 2011, AFP reported: “A top Myanmar official insisted feared strongman Than Shwe has no government role, in the first public confirmation that the former junta head had released the reins of power. "The senior general is really retired," Thura Shwe Mann, lower house speaker told reporters after the final session of Parliament in Naypyidaw. Than Shwe officially stepped down from his role as head of Myanmar's "Tatmadaw" armed forces after the military junta was disbanded in March. The senior general, whose face had been emblazoned across the front pages of state newspapers on an almost daily basis, has been virtually invisible since then. But few believed he had fully relinquished his grip on the impoverished nation, despite controversial November 2010 polls which brought a nominally civilian government to power. [Source: AFP, November 25, 2011]

“Thura Shwe Mann said the ailing 78-year-old is "absolutely" not involved with the army-backed United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won an overwhelming majority in the election. "To be more clear, the senior general is absolutely not concerned with the party, nor the government, nor our parliament, nor legislative organizations," he said, at the first public press briefing the top official has ever given. The military strongman knew the risk of retiring only too well, having put his predecessor, the late dictator Ne Win, under house arrest in 2002 after his family members were convicted of plotting to overthrow the regime.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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