Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Than Shwe Maneuvers to Retain Power

The Irrawaddy News

If Burma’s State Peace Development Council (SPDC) holds a successful election in 2010, the Burmese people will lose all hope of freedom and the generals who now rule the country will retain their power.

There are three nominations for presidency in the 2008 constitution—one from the military, one from the Senate or ethnic leaders’ hluttaw and one from Congress members. The Senate and the House then vote to choose the president of Burma.

According to the latest information from Naypyidaw, the military will nominate Gen Thura Shwe Mann and he will be Burma’s president. The Senate will nominate a prominent ethnic leader and the House will nominate a member of the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA), Kyant Phut.

After the 2010 election, Shwe Mann will issue a state order that Snr-Gen Than Shwe, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye and remaining SPDC members become patrons or advisers of the National Security Council of a new Burmese government. It means Than Shwe and his party will retain their grip on state power.

The military gets 25 percent of the seats at state, regional, district, township and village levels of the Burmese administration, according to the 2008 constitution. The military has a plan to assign deputy regional commanders as “second men” of regional administrations, deputy regiment commanders as “second men” of district administrations, majors or captains for township administrations and other ranks for village administrations.

After Than Shwe assumed state power in April, 1992, he arranged to hold a National Convention. He instructed Secretary (1) Gen Khin Nyunt and Secretary (2) Tin Oo to ensure that the military’s leading role should be one of the principal aims of the National Convention.

Khin Nyunt and Tin Oo objected, saying civilian politics would then disappear in Burma. Than Shwe ignored them, saying he had a long-term plan for a military role in future Burmese politics.

Although he appoints current ministers and the members of USDA who will organize the 2010 election, he still worries about its success. Because of his fear of losing control, he tries to get as many of his people in every sphere of government and pressures others to accept them as well. He is worried about the support he commands and whether his orders will be followed.

To achieve his aims, Than Shwe is using government money instead of his own. He promises that the 2010 election will be fair and honest, so he cannot use his power to influence its outcome without arousing international anger.

There is much discussion among the generals about where Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) stand. They are aware that if the NLD participates, the party stands a high chance of winning, just as it did in 1990.

There’s a fear among the generals that even among the 25 percent representation reserved for the military, as much as 15 percent might support the NLD. With that prospect in mind, some generals are seeking to exclude NLD officials from running for office.

Ultimately, the generals still have to wait for Than Shwe’s orders. Until recently, he tried very hard to ignore the NLD and to force his ideas on Burma.

The trial of Suu Kyi and the worldwide wave of condemnation it provoked have forced Than Shwe to reconsider his position.

Last month, he sent Shwe Mann to China to seek assurance of support for the junta.
The Chinese leaders requested a meeting with the junta’s No 2, Maung Aye, who visited Beijing on June 15. Foreign Minister Nyan Win is shortly to visit the United Nations in New York.

The ethnic ceasefire groups pose another problem for Than Shwe. The ethnic groups dislike the 2008 constitution and the election plan, and they don’t want to surrender to the Burmese military. They accuse Than Shwe of diminishing Burma’s federal policy and of destroying the Union of Myanmar.

Than Shwe promised ethnic leaders that if the armed groups agreed to non-disintegration of the Union, national solidarity and the perpetuation of sovereignty, he would be ready to talk to them. He promised government support for development in ceasefire areas.

He also promised to allow ethnic politics to be discussed at the National Convention, but then went back on that pledge.

After approving the 2008 constitution, he instructed the ethnic ceasefire groups to surrender and lay down their arms and proposed that their troops should serve as border security guards. The proposal was rejected by the largest ceasefire groups.

Than Shwe will take time to decide on a verdict for Suu Kyi’s trial, hoping international pressure will ease. There are two sayings to describe his frame of mind: “He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. People will forget in seven days” and “If there is tension, he will reduce it. If there isn’t tension, he will create it.”

In the 2010 election, Than Shwe will use his military power and influence to affect the outcome as much as possible. He realizes the importance of this election on his future.

If he wins, Burma will be under his tyranny for a long time to come. If he loses, he knows he faces possible arraignment before an international court.

Because of the importance of this election and the future of the people and country, we must try to educate and influence civilians as well as military officials. Other nations are monitoring Burma very closely, so General Than Shwe feels the pressure and cannot make dishonest decisions.

The author is a former officer in the counterintelligence department of the Office of the Chief of Military Intelligence (OCMI) and former deputy chief of the Burmese embassy in Washington. He lives in Washington is seeking political asylum in the United States.

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