All tyrants have dreams, and coup maker Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is proving to be no exception.
This week, he amused many in Myanmar as he sat down at a meeting of the Naypyitaw City Development Committee and instructed officials to create a neat, smart, green city with an underground metro rail system and electric buses for residents, as well as universities.
Located on the outskirts of Pyinmana in central Myanmar, Naypyitaw, or “Abode of Kings” was built in secret starting in 2000 after the previous regime, the State Peace and Development Council, made the secret decision to relocate the entire seat of government and national administration by 2006. The cost of building the new capital was not made public, but according to news reports, US$3-4 billion have been sunk into the project.
Some media have described it as a soulless “ghost capital”; regardless, it is now the administrative capital and under the control of coup leader Min Aung Hlaing. Many former generals whose hands are soaked in blood have retired there. But in his speech, the self-appointed prime minister proclaimed that the capital was designed to accommodate up to 20 million people and would become a center of international relations. With fewer than 1 million residents so far, it is in reality little more than a safe space for dictators and generals who have committed human rights violations and economic crimes, providing them shelter from any popular uprising.
Myanmar political icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (she served as State Counselor and foreign minister in the ousted government) is under house arrest somewhere in the city. Precisely where she is detained is unknown, though there is speculation that she is being held at one of the top commanders’ residences.
Even as Min Aung Hlaing reeled off his bizarre instructions on the future of Naypyitaw, Myanmar continued its rapid descent into a failed state. Its prisons are full of politicians, elected representatives, activists, journalists and physicians. The economy has collapsed, violence rages in the cities and the countryside unabated, and many of the country’s young and educated citizens have fled to foreign shores. Explosions, shootings and targeted assassinations have become commonplace in the center of Yangon and Mandalay, as well as in many other parts of the country. The international community has condemned the regime’s atrocities and Western governments have slapped it with sanctions. Most of the world—including some neighbors—has been reluctant to provide the regime with much-needed legitimacy.
Myanmar is likely to sink even further into crisis and chaos, if not hell, well before Min Aung Hlaing’s dream of an underground metro serving a green and smart capital is ever realized.
In July, according to the World Bank’s Myanmar Economic Monitor, the country’s ongoing political turmoil and a rapidly rising third wave of COVID-19 cases are severely impacting an economy that had already been weakened by the pandemic in 2020. The economy is expected to contract by around 18 percent in fiscal 2021 with damaging implications for lives, livelihoods, poverty and future growth, it said.
This week, a devastating new report by a group of independent financial experts, the Independent Economists for Myanmar (IEM)—whose identities have not been made public but who include economists and financial experts who have worked for the government or banks in Myanmar—argued that the regime’s “catastrophic” mismanagement has triggered a full-scale banking crisis.
The sight of Min Aung Hlaing’s subordinates at the meeting dutifully taking notes on the coup maker’s elaborate dream was truly pitiful. If they are brave and smart enough, they will report the reality on the ground to their boss. After six months in power, his instructions for Naypyitaw show that Min Aung Hlaing—the man who issued a shoot-to-kill order to forces deployed at civilian demonstrations—is truly out of touch with reality. One doesn’t have to be entirely cynical to ask whether it wouldn’t be better if he just dug his own grave.
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