Are There Cracks in Thein Sein's Cabinet?
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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Are There Cracks in Thein Sein's Cabinet?

By AUNG ZAW Friday, January 6, 2012


This week’s release of just a handful of political prisoners bitterly disappointed many in Burma. Dissidents saw the move as proof that Naypyidaw had not changed—that the so-called “reforms” were all a facade. The public vented its collective anger on social media and in emails to each other.

The main target of their vitriol was of course the president, Thein Sein, and the other high-ranking officials who had—over the past weeks and months—gone out on a limb to promise that political opponents would soon be freed from prison.

But when criticism spread to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her perceived role as an accomplice, The Lady herself had to react quickly to urge everyone to keep a cool head and to remind the gloomy public that the president alone could not enact reforms single-handedly.

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

A senior official close to the president confirmed the sentiment by disclosing that the decision to release just over 30 activists was the result of an ongoing power struggle between Thein Sein and the hardliners.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Suu Kyi cautioned against too much faith in the current changes, and said that Burma’s long-ruling military still wields enormous power despite the veneer of democracy provided by the elections.

“I am concerned about how much support there is in the military for change,” she said. “In the end, that’s the most important factor—how far the military are prepared to cooperate with the principles of reform.”

Analysts inside the country pointed to the powerful National Defense Security Council (NDSC) and to Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the retired dictator who may continue to exercise influence from behind the scenes.

“As long as Than Shwe is alive, don’t expect any genuine change in this country,” said an outspoken editor in Rangoon who, on this occasion, requested anonymity.

High-ranking officials have leaked the fact that recent NDSC meetings have been peppered with discord, and that the political prisoners issue is one of its most divisive.

Chairing the meetings is the president, Thein Sein, a former military general, but one who is reputed to be honest and sincere. Even skeptics admit that he is arguably the least corrupt of the top-ranking officers, and the general with the cleanest hands when it comes to the blood of past human rights abuses.

The Council is comprised of 11 senior government leaders, 10 of whom were previously military generals. The team includes the two vice-presidents, the commander-in-chief and deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the ministers of defense, home affairs, foreign affairs and border affairs. The speakers of both Houses are also members of the NDSC, and on occasion Information Minister Kyaw Hsan is invited to sit in as an observer.

Together the NDSC represents the inner circle of government in Burma; its members hold sway over all the highest priority matters, including national security, economy, and the pace of democratic reform.

Aides claim that the president usually makes the final decision on any particular issue, but that he is an attentive listener and prefers to hear competing angles before he commits himself.

However, it also appears that military hardliners still hold the power to overrule any decision. First vice-president, Tin Aung Myint Oo, is renowned as a battle-hardened general, but is also reputedly one of the most corrupt officials, loyal to Than Shwe, and always ready to stamp down on any dovishness at the NDSC and to maintain the status quo.

The hawks in the Council argue that releasing prominent dissidents will endanger national stability. It won’t. And Thein Sein, who served in the armed forces since 1968, knows that.

Inside sources say that Thein Sein faces mounting challenges to his authority—a suggestion he appeared more than willing to share with Western diplomats.

One story goes that when the president saw the news report published in both The Irrawaddy and the Bangkok Post that suggested that Tin Aung Myint Oo was constantly undermining him and was perhaps positioning himself in the driving seat for a military coup, he simply asked his staff to bring him extra copies of the news article. He then pinned a short note to the clippings and sent them over to the vice-president's office.

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Public View Wrote:
It would be better if we all let the President work together with the public, to decorate the country beautifully rather than having backup support from the Generals ( Army ). Really speaking the group of military leaders had already went through the country over 50 years. The country has already been damaged. The country is facing problems still. This is now the time to change. The President needs to accept the offers that we have been given and the supports that we are about to receive from foreign countries. The duty of safeguarding the public and country lies on the Army. The Army should not be getting involved with the Politics. We need the right person for the right place. This is my humble opinion.

smile Wrote:
Whom do you mean OPPOSITION?
Hope not ASSK/NLD :)

KML Wrote:
@Myanmar Patriots

Thanks for the comment.
I think in both cases, the British used "axe handle". Am I right?

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
KML wrote:

"Unfortunately, the Prince was assassinated by narrow minded relatives within the palace struggle."


Jeremy Wilcox Wrote:
@ smile( please do not vote for NLD and please boycott NLD from now on.)

You don't have to be afraid of NLD and Daw Su. Myanmar people are no fools. They know who they can TRUST. One thing is very clear and sure ... majority of Myanmar do not TRUST military and ex-military officials. So, if the election is fair, the OPPOSITION will get all the votes.

the Burman Wrote:
One has to ask the difficult question: What's more important, livelihood of 50 million people or the freedom of a thousand political prisoners?

No matter who takes power, there will always be political prisoners in jail.

smile Wrote:
I think that we should do our best not to elect Aung San Suu Kyi and members of NLD at all. Now we see very clearly that she will be given to an important post in the Thein Sein government. Sanctions will be lifted little by little for sure without the freedom of all political prisoners.

Moreover ASSK and NLD boycotted 2010 Elections why now suddenly ASK is so eager to win a seat?

Of course she will say Military could be a blockage for change because military will not accept once she is in government whatever she will say/do.

I would wish for the sake of our beloved Political Prisoners, please do not vote for NLD and please boycott NLD from now on.

timothy Wrote:
Burma need well-balanced act to overcome the political deadlock. On the one hand is democratic forces with desire simply to enjoy the civil liberty and liberation from oppression. On the other hand is fearful military Junta with a few bad guys who will always wants to guarantee the tight hold on the economy of the whole country and people. The fear factors need to infuse into the spine of the ruling generals to start understand the genuine talks. So far, no changes had we seen on the horizons.

Wallace Hla Wrote:
As we all know, Thein Sein is merely a figure-head president and when a powerful institution like the NDSC is comprised of former military generals still loyal to Than Shwe who’s said to be retired but pulling the strings and exercising his influence, it is no surprise to me that the so-called release of political dissidents and prisoners was just a façade and a ruse to appease the world’s community’s outlook towards Burma and it’s present ruling government. But what surprises me is that ASSK., a staunch supporter for democracy and the regime’s strongest critic and opponent, joined the boat-ride when all she had to do was renounce and reject the forth-coming by-elections until all political dissidents and leaders including some of her former party members and ally like Sao Hkun Htun Oo were first released unconditionally. She would have gained more support from the masses instead of being criticized as she’s being now.

Wallace Hla

Tom Tun Wrote:
Why are we fooling ourselves? Are we honestly believe that the generals from Than Shwe, Thein Sein and almost all of the government members will start doing good for the good of the country? These people had many chances. They fail to serve Burma for peace and stability. Those generals think releasing 88 generation leaders will threaten the stability. It is only half true. Release 88 generation students and put those generals on the world criminal court for their human rights abuses, than Burma will never go back to old way and we will be on the path to unbroken stability as long as Burma shall exist. Aung San Suu Kyi, Thein Sein, Than Shwe and all of the famous people can not be trusted any longer.

BaGyi Wrote:
Prolong the reforms will bring dishonorable endings and unmarked graveyards to all those hardliners.

KML Wrote:
There have been sub-threshold momentum in the reform processes since the aftermath of 2nd Anglo-Burmese war in 1952. Crown Price Kanaung send 90 scholars to London during 1860s to learn several modern technologies. The Prince realised the necessity of acquiring knowledge and opening up good relationship super-powers then. Unfortunately, the Prince was assassinated by narrow minded relatives within the palace struggle. The Japanese started “The Meiji Revolution” and you can trace back Mitsubishi Company then. How unfortunate Burmese people were.

Forget about colonisation by British, which brings infrastructure developments in exchange of people’s freedom and dignity. What about post independent parliamentary democracy? Then, stupid General Ne Win came. In 1988, only result was 3000 +lives lost on Rangoon streets and thousands in detention. In 2010& 2011, is there any chance of reform or back to the squire one. Dear my fellow Burmese people please wake up.

kerry Wrote:
The military controlling Burma (and their well-known business cronies) is an archaic, monstrous and globally abhorrent old paradigm, one that does not belong in the modern world any more than Tibetan nuns and monks having their heads smashed, and torture in Chinese prisons.

Thein Sein is seen as doing his best. The military who support the overdue changes will be noted and known.

Release the prisoners, ALL of them, and then the world will start to trust.

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