Burma’s Old Man is out
September 22 , 2001
Burma’s military leaders have again stunned the world, not by massacring thousands of innocent democracy protesters as was the case in 1988, but by arresting Burma’s untouchable elite: the family of former Burmese atrongman, General Ne Win.
Rangoon authorities arrested four members of the ex-dictator’s family on March 7, including Ne Win’s son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and three of his grand sons, after the military allegedly uncovered a plan designed by the group to overthrow the government.
Since the country’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) began arresting members of Burma’s most powerful family, it has been like watching a puzzling magic show. The puppets who were once controlled by the magician have suddently turned on their former boss, New Win.
Paradoxically, the junta’s latest press briefings have even contained some credible information, although many continue to be sceptical.
Ne Win, who ruled Burma for 26 years, has yet to be charged but as authorities continue to pry information out of his arrested kin, the future mat not be so bright for Burma’s most feared dicator.
Nevertheless, it is too early to predict what will happen to the Old Man- as he is known in Burma – but surely it is safe to say that the Ne Win era is over.
It is quite ironic, however, that almost 40 years to the day after Ne Win himself staged a coup in Burma, his inner circle has found themselves behind bars for the same action.
The real question here is how an ailing, bed ridden 92 year old could engineer such a plan? Numerous questions remain unanswered. If Ne Win’s family members were serious about taking state power, they grossly miscalaulated the atrength od Burma’s pervasive intelligence system as well as the power of Burma’s armed forces.
Did Ne Win not give them the proper consultation? Or were these individuals simply in denial regarding the power of these bodies?
It is safe to say that Ne Win and his cronies are getting what they deserve after guiding Burma into an absolutely dire economic and humanitarian state. Ne Win, after all, gave the shoot-to-kill orders in August 1988 that brought many to an early and unnecessary grave. The former dictator also sent thousands of people to prison during his regin for opposing his totalitarian ideals.
These new developments have been a boon for Burma’s military leaders. Not only have they foiled outside speculation that Ne Win continued to exert tremendous strength on the government. But they also squashed an attempted coup while strengthening their own grip on power.
Moreover, this move has won the hearts and minds of many ordinary Burmese in Rangoon, as Ne Win’s grandsons committed a long list of offences while holding court in the capital much like the family of former Indonesian dictator General Suharto who have been accused of murder, drug abuse, cronyism and widespread corruption. These same charges have been the hallmark of Ne Win’s family in Rangoon. For years the aquthorities turned a blind eye until they felt their own opower was at stake, as the Ne Win camp tried to establish a state within the state – a state where they not only called the shorts but lived above the law.
It was widely known that Ne Win’s family had recently become displeased with their situation in Burma. They had not been receiving the privileges and economic concessions that were once guaranteed them. This was, of course, the impetus for the planned coup.
The botton line here is that there are new kids in town. There are now dozens of Sandar Wins in Rangoon. (Sandar Win is Ne Win’s favoured daughter and wife of Aye Zaw Win. They are the parents of Ne Win’s three arrested grandsons.)
With a growing military elite, SPDC members have been looking to get their piece of the pie. Collision and conflict was inevitable in a society built on nepostism in a society built on nepotism, as families looked to expand their own business empires.
As the new era of economic elite came to roots in Rangoon, the Ne Win clan began boiling with jealousy and greed as they saw their silver spoon being taken away. With Burma’s remaining resources being tapped at an alarming rate, Sandar and company wanted a continued atake after being rewarded with special business concessions for so long. There is no doubt that Ne Win’s family came resent the new blood of Burma.
The last straw perhaps was the conflict over a US$44 million cellular phone deal in Burma that was intially acquired by Sandar Win’s family, but for unknown reasons has never been launched.
It can be side that the crackdown on Ne Win’s clan has more to do with business conflict than politics. Critics in Rangoon said the crushing of Ne Win’s empire was a necessary step for these new syndicates if they were to ever truly control the country’s business sector. Rangoon has also used this occasion to reassert its commitment to the ongoing reconcilliation talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in hopes of gaining favour with other international governments.
Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, the deputy chief of intelligence, told reporters that Ne Win’s family was not happy with the government’s political and economic reforms. If that is the case, many Burmese would agree with Ne Win - not because they are against reform but because there has been a lack of it.
Ne Win is known to hold a grudge against Suu Kyi, who criticised him in public when she entered politics 12 years ago. Many Burmese felt that change would come only after the Old Man bites the dust.
Now that the Ne Win era is over, the question becomes: Is Burma ready for a post Ne Win era? Analysts have noted that the economic crisis in Burma is deepening and the country could face serious social unrest in the months ahead, as high inflation and skyrocketing prices could spark looting and protests in Burma.
In the political arena, UN special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, is returning to Burma for the seventh time.
Though Razali maintains his optimism, many at home and abroad are scepticism, as the recociliation talks have now hit their 18th month with no tangible results, while nearly 2,000 political prisoners remain incarcerated in Burma.
Burma needs leaders who can feel the country’s sense of urgency. Now that Ne Win’s reign has ended, the ball is in the junta’s court. Courageous decisions are urgently needed in Burma if it is ever to get back on track. We will all know in a few months if Maj Gen Kyaw Win and the regime are telling the truth.