U Zaw Htay, Spokesman for Both NLD and Military-Backed Govts, Dies

By The Irrawaddy 23 May 2022

U Zaw Htay, who served as spokesperson for Myanmar’s ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government and attracted the military’s ire after the 2020 election with his retort that those casting doubt on the NLD’s poll victory were “committing political suicide”, died of a heart attack in Naypyitaw on Monday. He was 48.

A one-time army major, he had earlier served as the spokesperson for President U Thein Sein, who took office in 2011, while working as the director of the President’s Office.

When the NLD took power in 2016, U Zaw Htay was appointed government spokesperson and director general of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s State Counselor’s Office.

When the military and its proxy Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP) and their allies accused the NLD of breaching electoral laws and the Constitution in the wake of the 2020 election, U Zaw Htay rejected their claims. He said the accusations were “the acts of those who can’t accept defeat,” insisting that those who cast votes knew best about the election result and for whom they voted.

“I would say those who are making false accusations are committing political suicide,” he said during a press conference in early January 2021.

It turned out to be his last press briefing; the military staged a coup on Feb. 1 of that year, citing alleged massive electoral fraud by the NLD. The takeover was met with nationwide protests and sparked social and political unrest that the regime has proven unable to contain.

Following the coup, U Zaw Htay was detained by the regime for several months, probably for his comments about the election.

He was later freed but lived under tight scrutiny.

When the Rohingya issue broke out in 2012, U Zaw Htay said, as the spokesperson of U Thein Sein’s administration, that the problem was not as simple as it was being portrayed to be, involving territorial claims and other issues. He was denounced for the comment by activists at home and abroad.

His appointment as spokesperson for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government also met with skepticism from within the ranks of the NLD in the early days, given his military background and service in the previous military-proxy U Thein Sein administration.

But he proved himself to be among a handful of democratically reform-minded ex-military officials in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, eventually earning praise from his former critics.

He also seemed to be happy working under the NLD. In late 2020 when one of The Irrawaddy’s editors asked him what he thought of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government, especially as a former military official working for them, he replied, “She treats us as human beings. That’s different from the generals we used to work for in previous governments.”