RANGOON — Burma’s former military strongman Than Shwe has not been seen in public since November 2011 when he transferred power to a nominally civilian government, while his former fellow junta members and family have rarely made public remarks on his activities or well-being.
But on Thursday a new image of the retired senior general, now 82, suddenly appeared when his grandson Nay Shwe Thway Aung (also known as Pho La Pyae) shared a photo on Facebook showing him receiving instructions on how to use an iPad from his granddaughter in a well-furnished room.
Although it’s unclear when the photo was taken, it shows the former supremo in apparent good health and without even a trace of grey hair. The photo drew a positive response from some Facebook users, one of who remarked, “Long live grandpa,” while another wrote, “Whenever I see the government’s hesitation in some cases now, I think of you.”
However, most of the Burmese public fears and loathes the secretive junta leader who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1992 to 2011. Many believe he still holds considerable power, in particular over President Thein Sein who he handpicked as leader of the current government.
Last year, rumors circulated for several days that he was critically ill, forcing nearly everyone in the country to have a look at the obituary section of the state-run newspaper every morning with a silent prayer that the rumor they heard was true.
Than Shwe looms large over Burma’s democratic transition, which he is said to have planned as an army-led, seven-step roadmap to a “discipline-flourishing democracy.”
The most recent remarks on his activities came in January 2013, when Union Solidarity and Development Party 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 at the time.