Myanmar Junta Delivers State Honors—Whether Recipients Want Them or Not

By The Irrawaddy 21 February 2023

Junta-appointed chief ministers and military commanders have been hand-delivering honorary titles bestowed on citizens by junta boss Min Aung Hlaing after the recipients failed to show up in Naypyitaw last month to accept the awards personally.

While many of the title recipients are junta loyalists, some were honored posthumously, and some, it seems, unwillingly.

The latest case—one that falls into both the second and third categories—involves U Htin Kyaw, a former Union president under the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government. He was the first elected president to hold the office with no ties to the military since the 1962 coup. He resigned from the presidency in 2018 citing health issues.

On Sunday, junta officials knocked on his door in Naypyitaw to deliver two Sithu titles conferred upon his late father and late father-in-law. U Htin Kyaw had no option but to accept the honors on their behalf.

U Htin Kyaw’s father, Min Thu Wun, was a distinguished poet and writer who helped launch the Khit-San modern literary movement in Myanmar. The Oxford-educated scholar and NLD member was elected in the 1990 general election, which was won by the party but whose results the Myanmar military refused to accept. His work was banned by the military regime. He died in 2004.

U Htin Kyaw’s father-in-law, U Lwin, served in various roles including finance minister, deputy prime minister and member of the Revolutionary Council under military dictator Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party, until his resignation in 1980. He went on to win a seat in the 1990 general election as an NLD member, and led the party throughout the tough period of repression that followed under the Myanmar military’s State Law and Order Restoration Council and its successor, the State Peace and Development Council. He died in 2011.

Naypyitaw Council chairman Thiri Pyanchi U Tin Oo Lwin, who was a classmate of Min Aung Hlaing at the Defense Services Academy, and chief of Naypyitaw Command Major-General Zeya Kyawhtin Zaw Hein delivered the titles. U Htin Kyaw’s wife and U Lwin’s daughter Daw Su Su Lwin, also a former NLD lawmaker, did not receive the two, according to photos published by pro-junta media.

Min Aung Hlaing has awarded Thiri Pyanchi or Wunna Kyawhtin titles to a total of 24 members of the NLD cabinet, including Information Minister U Pe Myint, Agriculture Minister Dr. Aung Thu, and Transport Minister U Thant Sin Maung, after jailing the majority of the NLD government members including President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on trumped-up charges.

With the exception of T Kun Myat, an ethnic Kachin who has continued to hold the Lower House speaker position since the putsch, none of the NLD cabinet members attended the ceremony on Jan. 4 when Min Aung Hlaing awarded the titles.

Not to be refused, junta officials delivered titles to the doorsteps of former hotels and tourism minister U Ohn Maung, agriculture minister Dr. Aung Thu and deputy Lower House speaker U Aye Thar Aung.

The junta did not even spare distinguished poet and prominent NLD supporter Ko Lay (aka Inwa Gone Yi). Junta-appointed Mandalay Region Chief Minister Maung Ko delivered the title to the ailing poet, who was in no position to refuse. He is hooked up to a ventilator in a Mandalay hospital.

Political analyst U Than Soe Naing said it is clear the regime is trying to make life difficult for the unwilling recipients, as it knows that accepting such titles attracts negative public opinion.

At the same time, the analyst added, the regime hopes that some of its opponents will be sufficiently flattered by such honors to accept them, costing them public support and effectively luring them to its side.

Some have required less persuasion, such as the daughters of late dictator General Ne Win, former prime ministers U Nu and U Ba Swe, and incumbent Karen National Union chairman Mutu Say Poe. The women attended the ceremony and received titles on behalf of their fathers from junta boss Min Aung Hlaing.