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COMMENTARY
The Rut and Roar Begins in Burma
By AUNG ZAW Friday, July 8, 2011


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Only three months into the formation of Burma’s new quasi-civilian government, a power struggle has emerged among the former top generals who removed their uniforms and donned longyi in an attempt to convince the world that the country was on the road to disciplined democracy.

Like two stags during the rutting season, ex-Gen Shwe Mann, the current speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, and ex-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo, the current first vice-president, are bugling their presence, butting antlers and collecting allies.

Although it’s hard to predict where this conflict will lead, the pressure is on new President Thein Sein to settle the matter before it gets out of control. If Thein Sein does not resolve the situation, then he will he be sidelined and Burma could be thrown back into the dark ages of military dictatorship.

Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

Shwe Mann was once the most up-and-coming member of the previous junta, which called itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). He served as joint chief of staff in the armed forces and was the number three man in the SPDC. His official title was Tatmadaw Nyi Hnying Kutkae Yay Hmu, or coordinator of Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air force, a position created by the recently “retired” dictator, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, and offered to Shwe Mann in the early 2000s.

In this position, Shwe Mann oversaw the operations of the armed forces and earned the respect and cooperation of regional commanders. It was believed that he would have the solid backing of the military following the official retirement of Than Shwe and his deputy, Gen Maung Aye, and as a result he was tipped to become president after the election.

Shwe Mann’s success and popularity, however, may have contributed to his comeuppance. His steady rise in the armed forces perhaps alarmed the ever-paranoid Than Shwe, who passed him over for president in favor of the more malleable and less dangerous Thein Sein—a man much less likely to turn against Than Shwe and his family (the way Than Shwe turned against previous dictator Gen Ne Win and his family).

Thein Sein was previously a loyal officer to Than Shwe, and while acting as prime minister for the former junta, he proved to be a front-man who was adept at carrying the diplomatic water for the generals. He is no saint—we must always remember that he was a top general and prime minister in a ruthless regime—but he is known to be less corrupt than most of the former junta leaders and a good listener. Although it was rumored that Thein Sein wanted to retire due to health reasons after the election, Than Shwe needed him and asked him to stay on.

An embarrassed and beleaguered Shwe Mann suffered another blow when, to the surprise of many, Than Shwe picked Tin Aung Myint Oo to be the first vice president. The former Secretary 1 and number four ranked member of the SPDC, who also served in the powerful position of Quartermaster-General, is a hard-liner renowned for his foul mouth and grumpy demeanor. He also has a reputation for allegedly taking massive kickbacks for granting business concessions to Burmese cronies and Chinese companies investing in Burma.

But none of this deterred Than Shwe from tabbing Tin Aung Myint Oo to be the first vice president. This should come as no surprise, however, because the move is classic Than Shwe—he wants a good cop and a bad cop in the new administration, believing that as long as there is internal conflict he is safe.

Just as the former dictator must have predicted, there is now clear tension among the top officials in the new civilian regime. The question remains, however, as to whether Than Shwe was too clever by half, because if his maneuvers set the stage for another dictator to emerge in the person of Tin Aung Myint Oo, he may be in more danger than he ever would have been under a Shwe Mann presidency.

Given his hard-line attitude and clear quest for power, it is not surprising that Tin Aung Myint Oo has emerged as a strong, and possibly the strongest, leader in the new civilian regime. He has inserted himself directly in the decision-making process, bypassing President Thein Sein to get his way on matters ranging from the budget to trade policies to security affairs.



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A.M.O Wrote:
09/07/2011
Oh! boy!

It is just like Shake Spreare's Macbeth & Ali Baba's Forty Thieves - all mixed up in Naypyidaw! We might see a mayhem, just like King Mindon's time during his dying days! Hm!

How come! You know why?

These guys can't live up to the 'principles' & the 'code of conduct' to live up to; so they end up as cheap people & cheap governments; so, you can't claim 'dignity' which prevails forever.

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