Analysis

Myanmar Junta Chief Reveals His Egotism by Awarding Himself Honorary Titles

By Agga Aung 25 April 2022

While Myanmar has descended into chaos since the February 2021 coup, junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is busy blowing his own trumpet. His egomania was exposed again on April 17, Myanmar’s New Year’s Day, when he awarded himself titles traditionally given to people who make huge contributions to the country.

Min Aung Hlaing gave himself two titles on April 17: Sadoe Thiri Thudhamma ­– The Most Glorious Order of Truth ­­– and Sadoe Maha Thray Sithu ­– the Order of the Union of Myanmar. He also conferred honorary titles on former dictators. In doing so, he made himself a laughing stock with the Myanmar people.

He conferred the same titles he gave himself on former general and Vice President Myint Swe, who transferred power to Min Aung Hlaing on the day of the coup that ousted the civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) government that Myint Swe had previously served.

The highest titles in Myanmar are known as Thingaha Orders and are divided into two groups: Thudhamma Thingaha and Pyidaungsu Thingaha.

Agga Maha Thiri Thudhamma is the first class order in Thudhamma Thingaha and Agga Maha Thray Sithu is the first class order in Pyidaungsu Thingaha.

Min Aung Hlaing conferred both these titles posthumously on former Prime Minister U Nu, U San Yu, the puppet president during the Ne Win era of military rule, and Senior General Saw Maung, who took over as Prime Minister following the failed 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

The junta chief also gave former dictator Senior General Than Shwe, who handpicked Min Aung Hlaing as his successor as head of the Myanmar military, the Agga Maha Thray Sithu title, as well as awarding it posthumously to General Ne Win, who overthrew U Nu’s government in a 1962 coup.

Naypyitaw sources said that by giving out the titles to former dictators, Min Aung Hlaing is attempting to enhance his own status.

“He wants to show that Than Shwe’s era is over and that he is the boss now,” remarked a retired military officer.

Despite the fact that his regime faces intense armed resistance across most of the country, Min Aung Hlaing apparently believes that he is better than his mentor Than Shwe.

That was revealed by the fact that he awarded himself a higher title, Sadoe Thiri Thudhamma, than the one he conferred on Than Shwe.

Typically, the eligibility criteria is the same for both orders, and there is nothing that says one title is better than the other. However, the insignia for Thudhamma Thingaha titles are more lavish than the insignia for Pyidaungsu Thingaha titles.

The Sadoe Thiri Thudhamma title comes with a medal made with nine ticals of gold, and a salwe, or belt, which goes across the right shoulder and chest, made with 31 ticals of gold. The medal also has an 8.8 mm-diameter ruby surrounded by eight 5.8 mm rubies.

In contrast, the Agga Maha Thray Sithu title comes with a medal made with eight ticals of gold and without a salwe. And the medal has only a piece of jade and no rubies.

Min Aung Hlaing is expected to be seen wearing his new salwe at upcoming state occasions and when he receives credentials from newly-appointed foreign ambassadors.

A look at the list of honorary title recipients reveals that many appear to have been picked at random.

Former vice senior general Maung Aye, who was the second man in the former military regime led by Than Shwe, was not awarded any title. In fact, none of the top brass of the former military regime, five of whom are Than Shwe’s neighbors in Naypyitaw, were awarded titles.

It is safe to assume that U Thein Sein was excluded because he already has two Thingaha titles, awarded when he was President between 2011 and 2016. But Maung Aye, former Vice President U Tin Aung Myint Oo, former parliament speaker U Shwe Mann and former Union Election Commission head U Tin Aye were also not on the list. Nor was former military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt.

National League for Democracy patron U Tin Oo, who is a former military chief, was also not awarded a title.

Four former navy chiefs were given Sithu titles, but well-known navy chiefs U Soe Thein, U Thet Swe and U Nyan Tun were excluded. Five former air force chiefs were also given Sithu titles, but U Myat Hein, from Than Shwe’s era, and U Khin Aung Myint, who served during U Thein Sein’s time in power, were excluded.

Oddly, former air force chief Lwin Oo, who was in charge when the Myanmar Air Force bombed China’s Yunnan Province in 2015 during fighting in northern Shan State, was given a Sithu title.

Lwin Oo was appointed as Myanmar’s Ambassador to Russia after the 2021 coup, and sources in Naypyitaw suggested his title is for his contribution to the junta’s bilateral ties with Russia.

In the name of peace, Min Aung Hlaing also gave the Wunna Kyawhtin title to 25 leaders of ethnic armed organizations.

Controversial militia leader Zahkung Ting Ying from Kachin State Special Region 1 and U Aung Kham Hti from Special Region 6 in northern Shan State, who has close ties with Than Shwe, were among the Wunna Kyawhtin recipients.

Ethnic leaders who signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement were also given the Wunna Kyawhtin title. Among them were General Mutu Say Poe of the Karen National Union (KNU), General Yawd Serk of the Restoration Council of Shan State, Khun Okkar of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, U Khaing Soe Naing from the Arakan Liberation Party and U Naing Shwe Kyin from the New Mon State Party.

Sources suggest that Min Aung Hlaing is attempting to split the KNU by awarding KNU chairman General Mutu Say Poe a title while the KNU is engaged in fierce fighting with the military regime.

Some ethnic leaders might be secretly happy that they were given the Wunna Kyawhtin title. But they might be disappointed if they know the precedence of the awards.

Wunna Kyawhtin is an award for outstanding performance. It is a lower ranking award than Thingaha titles and ranked below the Thiri Pyanchi and Zayya Kyawhtin titles.

Deputy junta ministers were given the Wunna Kyawhtin title on Armed Forces Day last month, and awarding it to ethnic leaders may be a sign of how the regime regards them. The Myanmar military attaches great importance to protocol and is well aware that the Wunna Kyawhtin title is less prestigious.

Deputy junta chief Vice Senior General Soe Win is mainly responsible for scrutinizing individuals for honorary awards, along with deputy home affairs minister Major General Soe Tint Naing. Min Aung Hlaing reviews the list of nominees and signs off on them.

While Min Aung Hlaing is to be criticized for awarding himself titles, his deputy Soe Win can’t be spared criticism either. He awarded himself the Thray Sithu title on Independence Day in January.

Min Aung Hlaing also holds the Thray Sithu title, which was conferred on him by former President U Thein Sein. He was awarded no titles under the NLD government, but has given himself two titles one year after he seized power.

A retired military officer said he could not help laughing after he read about the award of the titles on April 17.

A little over a year after the coup, the regime has already given out thousands of titles, a display of egoism that is a considerable waste of public funds. On Independence Day alone in January, the regime awarded more than 1,200 medals, many of them posthumously. Another 1,009 people received titles, medals and badges on Armed Forces Day and on April 17.

The regime plans to spend 850 billion kyats on pensions and honorary awards in the current fiscal year, according to its budget. In stark contrast, the electricity budget is less than 700 billion kyats. That alone reveals that satisfying his own ego is more important to Min Aung Hlaing than providing electricity to the Myanmar people who have to endure daily power cuts.

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