BURMA: Military Shake-up Reveals Junta’s Plans for New Gov’t

  • by Marwaan Macan-Markar (bangkok)
  • Saturday, August 28, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

The latest of these steps came when news broke on Aug. 27 of senior military officers resigning from the army, taking Burma watchers by surprise. This shake-up was to make them eligible to be the civilian face of the new pro-junta government that is expected to emerge after the Nov. 7 election, the first in two decades.

But a cloud of uncertainty hangs over one question: Is the reclusive strongman, the 77-year-old Senior Gen. Than Shwe, on that list of resigned officers?

Media outlets run by Burmese journalists in exile say Than Shwe has stepped down as military supreme commander, but this could not be independently confirmed.

'Burmese junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his deputy, Gen Maung Aye have resigned their military posts, along with six other top military officers,' reported ‘The Irrawaddy’, published in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. 'The eight top men will retain their government posts,' a story on ‘The Irrawaddy’ website added, quoting sources from the capital Naypidaw in central Burma.

A Rangoon-datelined report from Reuters news agency concurs. '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,' it said, using the name the junta calls the country.

Under the watch of Than Shwe, the size of the military has doubled to some 450,000 troops in this South-east Asian country of more than 53 million people.

Friday’s announcement of senior officers shedding their military fatigues for civilian attire also resulted in a reshuffle in all regional commands and ranking military positions. This has allowed an unprecedented number of younger officers to move up in a military that has held power since its suppression of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, one that left over 3,000 protesters dead.

'This is the biggest military reshuffle since 1988, involving around 200 senior military officers,' Win Min, a Burmese military affairs expert living in exile, told IPS.

This move by Than Shwe is linked to the general election, added Win Min. 'By making this biggest military reshuffle, Than Shwe appears to believe that he can control the electoral process to make sure his party will win the elections and he can control the new military leaders.'

'Than Shwe also seems to believe that it is better for him to handpick the new generation of military leaders before the elections to make sure of their loyalty,' he revealed. 'This new generation of officers are in their 50s.'

The Aug. 27 reports of resignations and reshuffles come four months after Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein and 26 senior military officers quit the army to contest the November poll as candidates for the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Under Burma’s 2008 constitution, which was approved in a referendum plagued with fraud, the new president to be selected after the November polls has to be a civilian who is 'well acquainted' with military affairs.

This charter, which spells out changes in Burma’s political order after the poll, has language that emphasises greater civilian authority over the military.

The last time Burma had such a hierarchy in place was from 1974, when the second constitution came into force, until the bloody crackdown of the pro- democracy movement in 1988. The government was then in the hands of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which was created by then strongman Gen. Ne Win, who had grabbed power in a 1962 military coup.

The 14 years under the BSPP, whose ranks had many retired military officers, saw Burma have a semblance of the supremacy of civilian authority, unlike the early years of the Ne Win dictatorship, where the army ruled in the military- dominated Revolutionary Council.

The BSPP government sustained this veneer of ‘democracy’ by holding elections every four years, none of which provided for a multi-party contest. Burmese voters had only one choice — the party’s nominee.

Against this backdrop, some Burma watchers find Than Shwe’s move to give the appearance of greater civilian authority over the military very much in line with the the BSPP years. 'Anybody who thinks that this a latent sincerity towards democracy is deluding themselves,' said David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based global rights lobby. 'They are doing it to have a veneer of respectability.'

'They have created one-sided laws that favour their party,' he told IPS. 'But the signals they are sending out is that they want to stay within the laws.'

It was to protest such restrictions that the political party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi decided to boycott the November poll, leading to the disbandment of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD had won a thumping victory at the last general election in 1990, but the military regime refused to recognise its outcome.

To avoid a repeat of that result, Burma’s constitution guarantees the military 25 percent of seats in the 498-seat national legislature. Likewise, the USDP’s candidates, including retired military men, enjoy more financial muscle and freedom to campaign than the 40 other political parties in the running in the poll.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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