Junta Reshuffle Shows Nepotism Rules in Myanmar

By The Irrawaddy 13 February 2023

A reshuffle of the regime’s cabinet on the two-year anniversary of the coup earlier this month saw the junta boss offering “jobs for the boys”. Most of the new appointees are ex-generals while some are also friends of Min Aung Hlaing.

Nepotism has been a feature of Min Aung Hlaing’s leadership since he became military chief in 2011, with critics condemning a promotion policy that eschews merit in favor of connections.

He appointed former Brigadier-General Khin Yi as immigration minister following the coup, before installing him late last year as head of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a position critical for Min Aung Hlaing’s planned poll. The junta boss is related to Khin Yi by marriage.

Min Aung Hlaing had also appointed former Colonel Wunna Maung Lwin as foreign minister. The ex-colonel’s wife Daw Lin Lin Tin is cousin to the junta’s chief’s wife Kyu Kyu Hla.

Wunna Maung Lwin was replaced earlier this month after the regime suffered increasing diplomatic isolation since the coup. Normally, he would have been forced to step down after his efforts failed to woo western countries including the US.

But Min Aung Hlaing has reserved a seat for his relative by marriage in the regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council.

Another nepotistic appointment is former Major-General Maung Maung Ohn, who became the Information Minister. His daughter Ei Moh Moh Aung is close friends with the junta chief’s daughter, Khin Thiri Thet Min.

New foreign minister

U Wunna Maung Lwin was replaced by U Than Swe, who was part of the Defense Services Academy (DSA) 16th intake. He retired as a colonel in 2000.

Than Swe was a long-time Myanmar diplomat, serving as ambassador to the United States under the previous regime’s State Peace and Development Council and ex-general Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government. As ambassador, he arranged for President Thein Sein’s visit to the US in 2012. U Thein Sein was accompanied on the trip by President’s Office minister U Aung Min, U Soe Thane, and immigration minister U Khin Yi. The Burmese delegation visited the Washington D.C. headquarters of Radio Free Asia, where U Aung Min gave an interview stressing the importance of US support.

Collage shows Wunna Maung Lwin (center) flanked, clockwise from top left, by U Khin Yi, U Maung Maung Ohn, U Than Swe and U Aung Thaw.

Observers interpret Than Swe’s appointment as an attempt to rekindle ties with western countries including the US as the regime loses ground on the diplomatic front.

Former military intelligence officer U Aung Ling Htut, who has been living in the US, believes the regime will find it almost impossible to re-engage with the US, partly because it has no intermediaries like the previous military regime did, and partly because the junta has become too close to Russia.

Than Swe was assigned to lead the country’s anti-corruption commission last year before he was made the foreign minister on Feb. 1. As the anti-graft body’s chair, he is believed to have played a role in prosecuting civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on charges of corruption.

Generals become ministers, chief ministers

Former Brig-Gen Aung Thaw became minister of hotels and tourism in the reshuffle. He was a classmate of Min Aung Hlaing in the 19th intake of the DSA. He retired from the Navy after reaching the rank of Brig-General.

He served as the deputy defense minister in the U Thein Sein government. He contested the 2020 general election in Yangon’s Cocokyun Township on a USDP ticket.

He became Myanmar-Russia Friendship Association chairman following the 2021 coup and has accompanied the junta boss on his Russia trips.

With no known experience in tourism, it will be interesting to see how he attempts to revive an industry devastated by the double impact of COVID-19 and the coup. Perhaps he has just been tasked with wooing Russian tourists to Myanmar.

Four former lieutenant-generals who retired after reaching pensionable age following the coup have been appointed to senior positions in the Feb. 1 reshuffle, with three becoming chief ministers – of Kayah (Karenni) and Shan states and Ayeyarwady Region – and one becoming a Union minister.

The latter is new Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Minister U Min Naung. He joined the 66th intake of Officer Training School before serving as chief of Eastern Central Command, chief of Bureau of Special Operations 4, and Military Inspector General.

Following the coup, he was appointed secretary of the junta’s National Solidarity and Peacemaking Negotiation Committee.

The Agriculture and Irrigation Ministry became notorious for ‘fringe benefits’ under the previous junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Since then, its ministers and directors-general have amassed huge wealth, with one director-general rumored to have become as rich as a crony and able to lend money to banks.

The new Shan State chief minister, U Aung Zaw Aye, is a former lieutenant-general who led the Bureau of Special Operations 2. He oversaw military operations in Kayah and Shan state after the coup.

Former Lt-Gen Zaw Myo Tin and former Lt-Gen air defense chief Tin Maung Win became chief ministers of Kayah State and Ayeyarwady Region respectively.

Former Col Htein Lin, who served as Rakhine State security and border affairs minister in the U Thein Sein government, was appointed Rakhine State chief minister in the Feb. 1 reshuffle.

In the two years since the coup, nearly 1,000 military personnel have been transferred to government departments. And more are expected to fill the ministries as military rule continues.

There will also be more generals in the leadership. And there will undoubtedly be more nepotistic appointments and promotions for relatives and friends of Min Aung Hlaing and his family.