Burma’s Former Supremo Still ‘Interested in Politics’

By Tha Lun Zaung Htet 28 January 2013

RANGOON—Former military supremo Than Shwe still follows Burma’s politics with interest, but he no longer seeks any direct influence over political developments, according to a senior official of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who makes visits to the ex-general.

In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy in the capital Naypyidaw, USDP vice-chairman Htay Oo said Than Shwe is in fine health and peacefully retired, although he does follow politics in Burma.

“Of course, he is interested in politics as he was the leader of a country. It is certain that he wants the [political] system that he established to be successful,” Htay Oo said of his former boss.

“I visit him sometimes and he lives really peacefully,” he said. “It is not true that he does things behind the scenes. We [only] talk about party-related issues—people’s opinions and such.”

Sen-Gen Than Shwe was the leader of Burma’s junta regime from 1992 to 2011, when he headed the Burmese military and the State Peace and Development Council. His reign was marked by widespread repression, human rights abuses and wars with Burma’s ethnic groups.

He dissolved the council and resigned to make way for his hand-picked successor President Thein Sein, who has since led Burma’s quasi-civilian government. Vice-Senior General Min Aung Hlaing took over control of the military.

Since his resignation there has been much speculation as to whether the reclusive Than Shwe, now almost 80 years old, still exerts influence on the government and the military. In particular, after the army seemed to defy Thein Sein’s order to only engage in defensive actions in the Kachin conflict in northern Burma.

The ruling USDP consists of former military leaders who shed their uniforms and took seats in parliaments in 2010, after planning the transition to a quasi-civilian government.

Burma’s powerful army also exerts direct political control, as its officers fill 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

Free and democratic elections for the parliament are planned in 2015, when Burma is supposed to become a full multi-party democracy.

USDP vice-chairman Htay Oo said that Than Shwe continues to follow this political transition, as he had personally planned the roadmap from military rule to quasi-civilian government, from where it should lead to the 2015 elections.

“In fact, he systematically managed the country and handed it over to those who could carry on and lead it forward. He has done so and is happy now,” he said.

“He has changed the system, so what we have to do is to make it flourish,” Htay Oo added.

Htay Oo said Than Shwe had no desire or means to influence current political developments, adding that the senior-general only wants to see Burma reach democracy as he had planned it.

“We don’t have any procedure to change [politics]. We don’t have any policy to change it either,” he claimed.

“We now have a multi-party democracy system, a parliament and a government. What do we need to change? What we need to do is to make this system stronger and based on that, to look for means that contribute to people’s benefit,” Htay Oo said.

“He [Than Shwe] left this country in hands of those he believes will do their best,” he said.

The former military leader has not been seen in public since retiring in 2011.

Htay Oo said Than Shwe was enjoying a quiet life and made no trips and received no visitors, other than a few people who worked with him during his reign.

“The senior-general doesn’t go out, make trips or meet with many people. He doesn’t even meet with us regularly either. We only visit him when we are free,” the USDP vice-chairman said.