Previous Military Regimes and Parallel Governments in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 22 April 2021

Last week, deposed parliamentarians from the National League for Democracy (NLD) formed a government in parallel with the military’s State Administrative Council.

The military regime promptly declared the national unity government (NUG) an unlawful association. The NUG is not the first government established in parallel with Myanmar’s military regimes.

During the popular pro-democracy uprising in 1988, former Prime Minister U Nu formed a government to rival the Burma Socialist Programme Party government led by Dr. Maung Maung, a confidant of military dictator General Ne Win.

U Nu, then 82, formed the alternative administration on Sept. 9, 1988, nine days before a major reshuffle within the military dictatorship. He announced: “I have notified today the foreign governments that I could reach that I am the legitimate prime minister and that I request them to only recognize the government formed by me. My premiership won’t end just because a group of power- hungry men arrested me with the use of arms and sentenced me to 41⁄2 years in prison.”

The ethnically Karen Mahn Win Maung served as president in U Nu’s 12-member parallel government. He was the last civilian president before Gen. Ne Win seized power in the March 2, 1962, coup. U Aung Shwe and U Tin Oo, both of whom became NLD leaders, served as the home and defense ministers respectively in the parallel government.

U Nu, who promised a democratic general election, faced considerable opposition from other activists. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, then 43, was winning popular support as the daughter of independence hero General Aung San. “I was taken aback by the fact that former Prime Minister U Nu formed a parallel government. The future of the people must be decided by the people,” she said.

Dr. Maung Maung reportedly consulted with an astrologist in Gen. Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party to foresee his political future.

Some ministers swiftly resigned from the parallel government, saying they were given the positions without being consulted. A new group of generals seized power on September 18, 1988.

In December 1989, the new leader, General Saw Maung arrested U Nu and his ministers and published propaganda against U Nu.

On December 18, 1990, another parallel government led by Dr. Sein Win, a cousin of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, emerged.

Dr. Sein Win, who obtained a doctorate from Germany’s Hamburg University, was the son of U Ba Win, the elder brother of Gen. Aung San. Both U Ba Win and Gen. Aung San were assassinated with other cabinet members in 1947 ahead of independence.

Dr. Sein Win was the chairman of the National Democracy Party, which was allied to the NLD. He was elected to the Lower House representing Paukkaung Township in Bago Region, Gen. Ne Win’s hometown, in the May 1990 general election. But the military refused to recognize the election results.

Three months before Dr. Sein Win formed his parallel government, the elected NLD lawmakers from the election held a secret meeting in Amarapura Township, Mandalay, to form a parallel government. However, they were arrested by the military’s State Law and Order Restoration Council and given long prison sentences.

Dr. Sein Win fled to Thailand and formed his National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, with other elected MPs in Manerplaw, which was controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU).

Dr. Sein Win appointed himself as chief minister and demanded the restoration of democracy and protection of human rights. The parallel government put pressure through the United Nations on the military regime. It also worked for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from home arrest and called for sanctions against the regime. It also played a role in establishing the Democratic Voice of Burma media agency.

The regime called Dr. Sein Win, by then in the US, “exiled Sein Win” and published a book on the “Destructive Acts” of the Burma Communist Party, the KNU and Dr. Sein Win. It also blamed Dr. Sein Win for some acts of sabotage inside Myanmar.

Dr. Sein Win’s parallel government lobbied for democracy for more than 20 years from overseas. He abolished it after the NLD won several by-elections in 2012 and entered the national parliament.

The NLD won by landslides in the 2015 and 2020 general elections.

Myanmar’s military, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, claimed the 2020 poll was marred by fraud and staged a coup on February 1, the day the new parliament was set to convene.

The lawmakers from the NLD who managed to escape arrest formed the NUG on April 16.

The NUG, which was formed nine years after the abolishment of Dr. Sein Win’s parallel government, includes President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in their original positions, along with leaders from the Kachin, Karen, Chin and Mon ethnic groups.

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