NLD ‘Turncoat’ Criticized After Being Named to Myanmar Military Regime’s Cabinet

By The Irrawaddy 5 February 2021

YANGON—A National League for Democracy (NLD) renegade has come under fire for accepting a union minister position in the military regime’s cabinet, four days after Myanmar’s armed forces staged a takeover and arrested Union President U Win Myint and the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Five years ago this month, Daw Thet Thet Khine was sworn in as a Lower House lawmaker representing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD. Prior to that she was not involved in politics and was known primarily as the owner of a jewelry shop and some other businesses in Yangon. A few years after her election win, she left the NLD to set up the People’s Pioneer Party (PPP), saying she was unhappy with the NLD’s internal policies and its leadership.

In the run-up to the November 2020 election, the 53-year-old was among politicians from military-friendly political parties who rushed to meet military chief (now coup leader) Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. They asked him how he could help them “if they were mistreated by the NLD in the election.” The general replied: “There’s nothing I won’t dare to do.” Daw Thet Thet Khine told the media at the time that she only attended the meeting in order to explain her party’s polices to the senior general.

New National Democracy Party chairman U Thein Nyunt / The Irrawaddy

By then she had already become the subject of public criticism for her views on the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Her attendance at the meeting was perceived as kowtowing to the military and only fueled the criticism.

Unsurprisingly, her PPP did very poorly in the election. She herself was decisively defeated, garnering just 7.03 percent of the vote in her constituency, compared to 83.18 percent for her NLD rival.

Since her electoral loss, she had been largely spared by politically aware Myanmar netizens on Facebook, as they focused on other more worrisome issues like the military’s claims of electoral fraud.

However, she was firmly back on their radar on Thursday night following her appointment as the union minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement by the military regime. Many online critics found it hard to accept that someone who was defeated at the polls had been appointed to a union position, while elected lawmakers were in detention or barred from convening the Parliament. Furthermore, they were disappointed with her stance, especially at this time, amid a national outpouring of opposition to the toppling of the country’s democratically elected government by the military. Her appointment has unsurprisingly reinforced her public image as a “turncoat”.

National Democratic Force chairman U Khin Maung Swe (far left) / The Irrawaddy

As the news spread, Facebook went wild with posts like “Shame On You Thet Thet Khine, you don’t deserve it!” while others called for a lifetime boycott of her businesses.

Her family businesses were not spared, either. Some called for people to “unlike” her Shwe Nan Taw Gold & Jewelry shop’s Facebook page, and left abusive comments. They urged staff there to resign, with one screenshotting a message sent via Facebook Messenger that reads: “She would even sell you out for her own interests.”

Following her appointment, Daw Thet Thet Khine told the media she was happy with her appointment, as it gave her “a chance to work for the people.”

The ministry she was picked for is also responsible for disaster response and, more importantly, plays a major role in the government’s repatriation program of Rohingya from Bangladesh, as well as their resettlement.

“I think they have picked me for my qualifications, and they just wanted to have the right person in the right place. I will do my best,” she said.

Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung / Nyein Nyein / The Irrawaddy

‘Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend’

Daw Thet Thet Khine was not the only NLD renegade handpicked by the military regime. It also appointed New National Democracy Party chairman U Thein Nyunt and National Democratic Force chairman U Khin Maung Swe to its governing body, the State Administrative Council (SAC). Both are former NLD members who split from the party in order to take part in the military-organized 2010 election, which the NLD boycotted. The polls were internationally condemned as a sham.

Also appointed to the SAC was former Karen National Union leader and ex-political prisoner Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung, who mounted an unsuccessful run for a Lower House seat representing Ayeyarwady Region’s Pantanaw Township for the Karen People’s Party in last year’s general election.

For all his history of political and armed struggle against Myanmar’s military dictatorships since 1962—not to mention his escape from a prison on the Coco Islands in the Andaman Sea, which earned him the nickname “Burma’s Papillon”—he was known to be an admirer of then-President U Thein Sein, a former general who became head of state via the military-orchestrated election in 2010. Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung praised the president as his savior for granting him amnesty in 2012, ending the life-imprisonment term handed to him for waging his armed struggle.

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