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Than Shwe's Post-Election Choreography

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Message Zaw Nay Aung

Less than six months after the so-called 'new civilian government' came to power, Burma has encountered a series of events which could raise one's eyebrows. These events, however, are not significant if Than Shwe is remembered all along. From the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi following the election in 2010 to the recent establishment of the National Human Rights Commission seems to be well choreographed by the supreme leader of the post-1988 regimes, Than Shwe.  


Burma is currently in the last phase of the regime's seven-step scheme, 'building a modern, developed and democratic nation by the state leaders elected by the Hluttaw (Parliament)' which is in the progress and in a good order. Yet, it is not an easy job for the generals in mufti to keep their plan untouched. They need to work hard to outwit the people and would not be able to do that without Than Shwe's help who successfully maintained the decades-old military rule. The twists and turns in post-election Burmese politics are somewhat peculiar but perfectly shaped for those who want to deal with the Union Solidarity and Development Party regime as a 'new civilian government'.


The first ever task of the government to pretend its civilian and democratic nature was the formation of presidential advisory board. In order to counter the potential allegation of spurious advisory body, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's close friend, an economist, U Myint was appointed as the Chief economic advisor. At the same time, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was coerced to re-register the party which in fact was pushing the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to accept the 2008 constitution, the heart of the military rule. The NLD, however, has firmly stayed on its course of 'dialogue' and the international community, especially the West, was not convinced by the regime's superficial changes either.


Eventually, the exciting moments came following the recent meeting between Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Although it is doubtful that these meetings are merely shams, the Lady's remark on these occasions has changed the way the regime has been seen and raised some hopes of genuine reconciliation among the people. Although the people do not trust Thein Sein and the USDP government easily, they trust Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. If she says that she is happy with the meeting, then the people are happy too. Nevertheless, the imprisoned leaders of 88-Generation students group warned the Lady to take a cautious approach when dealing with the Thein Sein administration. Many others are also anxious that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being used by the regime for their sole interests rather than for the country and the people.


The regime's post-election tricks work to some extent. The people start to think that President Thein Sein is a moderate and willing to work with the mainstream opposition, the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Such a thought leads to an imaginative and wishful scenario of a split in the ruling USDP regime, a power struggle between Thein Sein led moderates and the Vice-President, Tin Aung Myint Oo led hardliners. While the new military chief, General Min Aung Hlaing quietly serves his role and do his job, Than Shwe is thought to be living in fear and struggling with his health issues. Most people do not know exactly what Maung Aye, Than Shwe's deputy, has been up to. Whether he was ordained and determined to spend the rest of his life as a Buddhist monk or meditating day and night in search of the true meaning of life is nothing more than a hearsay. At least, Than Shwe is believed to be out of the country's political affairs by some analysts as well as the larger part of the general public.


Even if Thein Sein is regarded as the new leader of the regime, he is thought to be same as his predecessor Than Shwe by many people. Very few think that Than Shwe is still pulling the strings behind the scene and continues ruling the country. On the other hand, three is a possibility that Than Shwe no longer involves in post-election politics but rather left a blue print for his generals-in-mufti on their relations with the opposition and the international community. However, apart from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's apparent satisfaction out of the talks, no substantial and meaningful changes have been seen.


Nearly 2,000 political prisoners remain incarcerated and the regime consistently denies their existence. Although it is much easier to release those who are currently serving their sentences, Thein Sein ridiculously asked those in exile to come back home instead. Furthermore, the National Human Rights Commission is established as a fifteen-member body which consists of former civil servants who were once loyal servants to the military regimes. Only one retired professor of law (a leading member of the SPDC backed Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association and a persistent flatterer of the junta's educational and economic reforms) is a member of the human rights body while other members are once practitioners and experts in international relations such as ambassadors for the military regime. This latest move of the regime is quite obvious that the newly formed human rights commission is simply to serve and protect the regime on the international platform.


Some of these post-election manoeuvres of the regime such as the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the establishment of national human rights commission are well-planned ahead since Than Shwe was in power and the rest of the recent developments also seem to be well choreographed. The changes that happened since the so-called 'new civilian government' came to power have been the clothes of the generals and 'no ifs and buts, say yes to the USDP's proposals' at so-called parliament. However, the regime at least got something back as the media and the people started refereeing them as a 'new civilian government'. It seems that Than Shwe's post-election choreography did attract some people who credulously hope for a day when the USDP's artificial democracy turns to a genuine one.

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Zaw Nay Aung is director of London-based human rights advocacy and think tank, Burma Independence Advocates.
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