Thursday, February 17, 2011

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (1)

(This episode is the Cabinet Selection in new Union Parliament.) 

The recently elected Union Parliament (Pyidaugzu Hluttaw) convened on Jan 31, 2011. During next three days the Parliament first elected three candidates for the President and two Vice Presidents of Union of Burma.

The three were Thein Sein (current Prime Minister), Tin Aung Myint Oo (current Secretary 1 of SPDC), and Sai Mau Kham a civilian representing the ethnic minorities. On Friday the fourth of February Thein Sein was elected as the President. He received 408 votes out of total 659 votes while Tin Aung Myint Oo and Sai mau Kham received 171 and 75 votes.

And President-elect Thein Sein immediately received from his real boss Senior General Than Shwe the list of 34 proposed ministries and the second list of 30 ministers. Thein Sein had to submit two lists to the Union Parliament and get approval as the new constitution requires.

So far the Parliament was progressing smoothly as Than Shwe had planned but during the weekend his plan to transfer the power seamlessly to the newly-elected Parliaments and also the army to the younger generation of Army Generals hit the first serious obstacle. The crucial part of Than Shwe’s plan was the appointment of new cabinet as most of them are the serving army officers and they all will be forced to retire from the army.

Heading Than Shwe’s original list of ministers as number one was General Myint Aung currently the Adjutant General and the anointed Commander-in-Chief. Next day the decorated General was put under house arrest by Than Shwe for refusing to serve as the Defense Minister. Than Shwe was so angry Myint Aung’s entire family was evicted from their government houses in both Naypyidaw and Rangoon. Even their Government vehicles were withdrawn.

On February 8, 2011 the President-elect Thein Sein submitted the list of 34 proposed ministries and also the new list of 30 hand-picked ministers to the recently elected Union Parliament. After a lively debate the parliament approved the ministries next day on February 9 Wednesday but the ministers were only approved by the Parliament two days later on February 11 Friday.

This story was what happened behind the scenes of that intriguing episode of the fiasco called discipline-flourishing democracy in Burma or just simply Semi-democracy Burmese style.

Parallel Line-up of Younger Generals

At present officially the number one top dog in the Army is Senior-General Than Shwe the Commander-in-chief. Just below him as number 2 and 3 are Vice-Senior-General Maung Aye the Vice Commander-in-Chief and General Shwe Mann the Joint Chief of Staff (Army, Navy, Airforce). All three are at the old ages of 77, 74, and 64 respectively.

But since last August the three secretly relinquished their active army positions and temporarily assigned former Adjutant General Lt. General Myint Aung (DSA 18), former BSO(3) Chief Lt. General Ko Ko (DSA 19), and former BSO(2) Chief Lt. General Min Aung Hlaing (DSA 19) to their old  positions respectively.

The rumors then were that Than Shwe and Maung Aye and Shwe Mann were to become the President and the vice Presidents. But that rumors were quashed soon as only relatively younger Shwe Mann has become a member of new parliament and now the Chairman-elect of People Parliament.

The learned opinion then was that both old men Than Shwe and Maung Aye had wanted to retire once the SPDC junta is dismantled and so they’d created a parallel line-up of trusted young generals to take their positions. But their actions also created a power vacuum and a life-or-death struggle among the three younger generals especially between Myint Aung and Min Aung Hlaing for the absolute control of Burmese Army in post-Than Shwe era had begun since then.

Designated Top Dog got Arrested

On Friday the news started leaking out from Naypyidaw that the designated Top Dog General Myint Aung was put under house arrest by the troops loyal to Min Aung Hlaing following Than Shwe’s orders.

The reason was he openly disobeyed Than Shwe’s direct order to become the civilian Defense Minister in the new Union Government. Apparently he lost his battle with Min Aung Hlaing as Than Shwe has decided to leave his Army in the more trusted hands of Min Aung Hlaing the newly anointed Commander-in-Chief of Burmese Army.  

His original list of 30 ministers was rewritten and the President-elect Thein Sein submitted the new list to the Union Parliament on Tuesday February 8 and only after two day interruptions and after a lackluster debate the Union Parliament approved the cabinet on Friday February 11.

Nobody really knew what exactly happened behind the scenes but here are the three learned opinions.

Informal Coup by Hla Thaung Group?

There exists a group of officers graduated from the cadet school called Aung San Thuria Hla Thaung in the army. Roughly around 300 serving or retired officers in the group Hla Thaung Group is the largest and tightly-knit interest group in the Army. Patroned by now Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo and trusted by Than Shwe the group has essentially controlled the Army, Government, and business in Burma.

Information Minister Kyaw San (DSA 15) and Chairman of Publice Service Selection Board Kyaw Thu (DSA 13)  the son of late President Dr. Maung Maung are just two visible leaders of Hla Thaung Group and Kyaw San has been promoting Min Aung Hlaing heavily in his media outlets of state-owned TVs and Newspapers for sometime now. This photo is Min Aung Hlaing (left), Shwe Mann, and Than Shwe meeting China's Hu Jin Tau in Beijing.

Since they are extremely influential and Min Aung Hlaing is their man in the army they would definitely fight to push Myint Aung and Ko Ko out of the army and it appeared that they did and finally succeeded.

Pauk Pauk Vs Kyu Kyu Decided by Kyaing Kyaing?

According to one seasoned Burmese-Army watcher who didn’t want his name mentioned in this post there was an even uglier play behind the sordid affairs of power struggle in Burma. The war of the Bogyoke-Gadaws (Generals’ wives).

In his view General Myint Aung was simply pushed out mainly because his wife Pauk Pauk could not penetrate through the wall of other generals’ wives to get access to Kyaing Kyaing (Than Shwe’s dominating wife). Pauk Pauk was just an uneducated country woman compared to an M.Ed degree holder and university lecturer Kyu Kyu the dear wife of Min Aung Hlaing.

Since the physical and financial security of Than Shwe’s family lies in the hands of new army-chief Kyaing Kyaing’s shrewd opinion could be the ultimate deciding factor influencing Than Shwe’s final decision to push Myint Aung and Ko Ko out of the army.

Did Chinese Pick the Winner?

As the former Commander of Triangle Region Command and the Chief of BSO(2) responsible for the volatile border region on the 1360 miles long Chinese border Min Aung Hlaing has been the China’s direct conduit to Than Shwe for a long time now. And the Chinese leadership especially the South Western Army of PLA particularly is very close to him.

It could simply be that the Chinese had picked and stood behind their key ally Min Aung Hlaing as the ultimate decision maker of Burma to protect their massive commercial and security interest in Burma.

New Defense Minister?

The surprise for most Burma watchers was Than Shwe’s second choice of Defense Minster after his first choice fell through. Major General Thein Htay the current Chief of Ordnance Production was a 1980 mechanical engineering graduate from RIT and a 1981 OTS 58 graduate.

Basically he is the key person leading the weapon industry in Burma and he accompanied General Shwe Mann in his clandestine mission to North Korea in 2008. He was also instrumental in buying the missiles with conventional warheads and the advanced missile technology from North Korea. He is a well-known hard-liner and the push behind the nuclear arming of Burma in future. This photo is Thein Htay and Shwe Mann with North Korean officers.

Thein Htay was my classmate in RIT and he was a rare hardcore Lanzin-Youth (Pro-Government Socialist Youth) during his student days while most of us were actively involving in the anti-government protests like 1974 U Thant Uprising.

Two hard-line warmongers close to China and North Korea now on the road to controlling the Burmese Armed forces and the Defense Ministry is definitely not a good sign for Democracy and for long overdue political and economic reforms in Burma.

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (2)