Cyclone Than Shwe Hits Naypyidaw
The Irrawaddy (Online Commentary)
August 25 , 2010
“Looks like another cyclone has hit us,” is the catchphrase currently doing the rounds in Naypyidaw. Although only meant as a metaphor for the recent shake-up in government personnel, the hushed whispers in the corridors of the capital's ministries are only half in jest. For this time the reshuffle has torn through the heart of the military government, and many major players are now unsure where their futures lie.
The destructive force of nature yet again is Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the reclusive and ailing military dictator whose decisions are more often than not based on paranoia and superstition (he frequently enlists numerologists to assist him in planning events and enacting policies).
On the chopping block this time were several top military generals, most notably four chiefs from the bureaus of special operations: Lt-Gen Thar Aye, Lt-Gen Ohn Myint, Lt-Gen Myint Swe and Lt-Gen Khin Zaw.
|Aung Zaw is founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.|
Than Shwe also reportedly asked for the resignations of his head of air defense, Lt-Gen Myint Hlaing, his chief of ordnance production for the country's armed forces, Lt-Gen Tin Aye, and Chief of Defense Services Inspection and Auditor-General Lt-Gen Maung Shein.
Within those very ministries affected, it was immediately noted that other chiefs of bureaus of special operations, namely Lt-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Lt-Gen Ko Ko, were not shown the door.
Likewise, within the armed forces, training chief Lt-Gen Hla Htay and Adjutant General Lt-Gen Thura Myint Aung, also avoided the gauntlet.
But the Burmese junta is nothing if not unpredictable. It is openly speculated that Min Aung Hlaing is now expected to become the deputy commander-in-chief of the army, while the regime's No.3, Gen “Thura” Shwe Mann, who has long been tipped for the top, either as commander-in-chief of the army or as a future president, will remain in his current position as joint chief of staff, a powerful position that gives him oversight of all commanders of the army, navy and air force.
The motives behind the shake-up are still sketchy. Several publications, including The Irrawaddy, were tipped off that the resignations were, in fact, lateral moves as the resigning officers had been selected to take over positions in the post-election government.
Like Prime Minister Thein Sein, it was reported that the resigning officers would join the junta's proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and prepare to take seats in the new parliament.
But although that may very well be the case, it would not be unlike the wily Than Shwe to use the occasion to kill two birds with one stone. While promising parliamentary seats and ministerial positions for some, he could purge others from their posts, paving the way for a few fresh faces, perhaps some young blood, among his closed ranks.
Some observers have suggested that the reshuffle was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the US-led calls for a war crimes commission on Burma; though how Than Shwe might think that he can distance himself from the military hardliners is anyone's guess.
Some military analysts who are close to the regime have said that the aging leader has become increasingly irrational and out of touch with reality. They say he is desperately concerned about his personal safety and his children and grandchildren's futures. His fears were nearly realized last month when, allegedly, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Naypyidaw.
Analysts also claim that Than Shwe sees himself as president of a future government. A Burmese editor who is based in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy: “Than Shwe would like to become president with Shwe Mann as commander-in-chief and Tin Aye as deputy commander-in-chief.”
Whether a paranoid knee-jerk reaction or a calculated chess move, Than Shwe's reshuffle could very likely create chaos within the corridors of power, according to several Burma scholars. They say that even though Than Shwe is gradually moving around his most trusted officers between the key positions in the armed forces and the ruling council, he has still not clarified what he intends for his succession.
There is no clear back-up strategy nor a Plan B. If Than Shwe had a heart attack tomorrow, the junta could quite easily fall apart from hasty grabs for power and internal strife.
Observers say that business rivalries among the generals and family members, conflicts of interest and infighting between the army generals and the officers-turned-politicians could severely threaten the stability of the regime.
So, while the people of Burma pray for the winds of change, the generals in Naypyidaw are bracing themselves for the impact of the storm. And no one dares bet on the whirlwind nature of Than Shwe's wrath.