Intelligence (October 2008)
covering burma and southeast asia
Thursday, June 20, 2024

Intelligence (October 2008)



Junta Launches Campaign for Hearts and Minds of Rural Voters

The Burmese military regime plans to win over rural voters in the upcoming 2010 national election by building new schools, hospitals, bridges, dams and other infrastructure. The strategy has the backing of Minister of Industry-1 Aung Thaung and Minister of Science and Technology U Thaung, both known as junta hardliners.

Observers say the effort also signals a distrust of urban residents in Rangoon and Mandalay, where thousands took to the streets in the 2007 mass uprisings. “They [city people] represented Western ideas and were puppets of the West,” Aung Thaung reportedly told some colleagues recently. The regime’s focus is expected to concentrate on central Burma, where it believes it can win voters’ loyalty.

Burma’s paramount leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe has been a supporter of building bridges and dams since he rose to power in 1988 as deputy chairman of the ruling military council, where he was given special authority to oversee national building projects and was known as “the chairman of dams and bridges.” 

NLD Youth Members Threaten to Quit

In mid-September, more than 100 youth members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) threatened to quit the party, claiming they are excluded from the decision-making process by the senior leadership. Sources within the party said the disgruntled members have become increasingly dissatisfied with the senior NLD leaders and blamed them for failing to bring about any effective political change in Burma.

The NLD youth members called on the senior “uncles”—mostly octogenarians—to be more decisive and lead the party more effectively. In the absence of Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD is currently led by Chairman Aung Shwe and Secretary U Lwin, both in their late 80s, who served in the Ne Win government of the 1970s.

The rebellious youth members are believed to have support from some exiled Burmese dissidents in Thailand and the US. Some sources even suggested that they have received backing from exiles to stage a “quiet coup” against the aging NLD leadership.

 Shwe Mann Out of Favor?

Shwe Mann (Illustration: Harn Lay/The Irrawaddy)
Although groomed to take over as commander in chief of the Burmese armed forces, Joint Chief of Staff Gen Shwe Mann is suddenly keeping a low profile, according to military sources and businessmen in Rangoon.

The former regional commander of Irrawaddy Division, who was promoted to general in 2003, is reportedly distancing himself from other military leaders as rivalry for the leadership succession intensifies.

Sources said that Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye have received complaints from senior officers about the Shwe Mann family’s growing business empire and alleged favoritism toward his sons. Shwe Mann began backtracking when his family’s business dealings were exposed by the exiled media, including The Irrawaddy, and by his business associates. Two of his sons, Aung Thet Mann and Toe Naing Mann, run the Ayer Shwe Wah rice-exporting company, which is closely linked to Htoo Trading Company, owned by Burma’s most prominent businessman, Tay Za. Both companies and their directors are on the US sanctions list.

Shwe Mann was never previously involved in business, but lobbied the government for his sons to receive concessions, as well as import and export licenses. In 2000, Ayer Shwe Wah acquired more than 30,000 acres of wetlands and rice paddy in the Irrawaddy delta region. The company also received lucrative government contracts to supply fertilizers to farmers throughout the delta and has been involved in construction projects in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw.

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