Still in the Shadows

Naypyitaw, Naypyidaw, reform, dictator

After this illustration appeared on the cover of The Irrawaddy magazine in January 2003, Myanmar’s dictator became known to many as “King Than Shwe”– much to the displeasure of the regime, and some military leaders today.

If there was ever any doubt that Snr.-Gen. Than Shwe, Myanmar’s ex-dictator, is still a force behind the scenes, they can now be put to rest. As sources close to the former junta leadership have confirmed, the retired strongman is as influential as ever, and is likely to remain so until he dies.

According to these sources, three groups regularly visit the aging military patriarch at his palatial residence in Naypyitaw.

The first is led by U Thaung, the former minister for science and technology, and U Aung Thaung, the former industry minister who now plays a leading role in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Dr. Kyaw Myint, the former health minister, and Dr. Chan Nyein, the former education minister, also belong to this group.

The second group consists of senior military figures, including the current commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Snr.-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who is due to retire soon. His possible successor, Deputy Snr.-Gen. Soe Win, is also a regular visitor. Two other favorites of the ex-generalissimo who frequently drop by are Gen. Hla Htay Win, the chief of the general staff (army, navy and air force), and Lt.-Gen. Myat Htun Oo; both are also in line for promotion.

The third group includes Union Parliament Speaker U Shwe Mann and Upper House Speaker U Khin Aung Myint. U Shwe Mann, a leading member of the former junta who was pegged to become president in 2011, reportedly had a lengthy conversation with his former boss after President U Thein Sein got the job instead.

In addition to these visitors, there are also others—including the president—who visit during traditional holidays, when it is customary for subordinates to pay their respects to their elders.

To many observers, this steady stream of visitors indicates that the man who once ruled with an iron fist still wields considerable power behind the scenes. His influence is believed to be especially strong with the military, particularly in matters related to promotions and reshuffles.

But there are also those who believe that he is the reason that reforms introduced since 2011 appear to have stalled. He has, they say, decided to slow the pace of change ahead of next year’s election to ensure that the military retains its preeminent position in political affairs.

Of course, there are some who insist that he and his wife Daw Kyaing Kyaing spend their days watching soap operas and leading “a boring lifestyle,” to quote one source, at their massive residence near the Water Fountain Park in Naypyitaw.

Boring? Perhaps. But make no mistake: This is a man who knows that he can’t afford to get too bored with the shifting sands of power in Myanmar politics. He may have stepped out of public view, but his exit strategy is still a work in progress.

This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy print magazine.

3 Responses to Still in the Shadows

  1. Yes, we call him “LOOK MA ! NO HANDS !”

    You want to know more ? (See more) below:

    “LOOK -’MA’ — NO HANDS!”
    “The day you take off your uniform, you are as good as dead ; just like your boss Gen Ne Win” – Daw Kyaing Kyaing (Than Shwe’s wife)
    Boy! You don’t have to worry; there are many ways to hold onto power without wearing a uniform (sic. status of Army Chief of Staff)
    ‘How to rule a nation state upon nominal retirement – a despot’s way’
    It is quite easy, boy !
    A shady deal is fixed to run a nominally civilian-run Cabinet by Burma’s former despot Sr Gen Than Shwe !
    How is the deal fixed ?
    Well, it is easy ! Just form a NDSC (National Defense & Security Council) sitting on top of the Cabinet (obscure & not known to the general public); no doubt Sr Gen Than Shwe is the Chairman!
    Then again, who is behind all this 969 stuff and and all this communal strife all across the state – which sets you thinking as:
    – The whole issue is planned with calculated moves for political gains
    – Religion is pushed up front to exploit majority Buddhist sentiments
    – The movement seems to have strong financial support
    – Killings, arson are ignored by the authorities
    – Old monsters stirring up trouble (ref: June 2, 2013: Sunday Times, Singapore)
    So, all these indicators point to: –
    “LOOK -’MA’ — NO HANDS!”
    No doubt about it !
    [Ref: “You guys (MI personnel sic Gen Kyaw Win), don’t you argue with me again– On who did it ! I did it ! So, what?” – Gen Than Shwe(on De-Pe-Yinn massacre) ]

  2. Everyone of us believes it since day one. We the people are not so dumb not to know that Than Shwe is sitting in his palace without pulling the string of dirty politics in Myanmar. His reign will end sooner or later anyway. His legacy will be remembered as the worst in Myanmar history. Reign of the beast will be replaced soon by Reign of the fairy with love in the land.

  3. Phakhawng and his family may think they are royal family. Actually, phakhawng is just a phakhawng(Pimp is always a pimp).

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