Guest Column

Myanmar Military’s Attempts to Smear Suu Kyi as Corrupt Have Failed

By Paw Htun 17 May 2022

Six years ago, army chiefs and senior members of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) initiated a mission to smear National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD figures.

Their mission began after the NLD won a landslide victory in the 2015 general election. Now, following last year’s coup, the mission continues.

Ahead of the 2015 poll, military and USDP leaders deliberately inflamed religious and racial sentiments to prevent an outright NLD victory in the election. Often, the NLD was portrayed as a pro-Muslim party whose rise to power would mean the fall of Buddhism in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Nationalist groups like the Association for Protection of Race and Religion, better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, engaged in campaigns to slander the NLD, amid a growing wave of Buddhist nationalism in the country.

Their actions did have some impact on the NLD, but not to the extent of undermining public trust in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, or in reducing the public’s love, respect and support for the woman who has dedicated her life to the cause of democracy. People who wanted change voted for her and the NLD in the 2015 election.

After the poll, military and USDP leaders reviewed the USDP’s defeat. They realised that people support the NLD because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation and prestige.

They have since systematically attempted to defame Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders. They believe that if they can damage the name of a politician, public trust in him or her will decline.

Army officers from the Office of Military Security Affairs and police from Special Branch were assigned with keeping an eye on cabinet ministers and NLD lawmakers. The Office of Military Security Affairs was also tasked with spreading doctored narratives and fake news, mixed with real facts about NLD ministers and lawmakers, on social media.

In cooperation with so-called Myanmar experts who had returned from foreign countries to Myanmar, military leaders spread misinformation about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD leaders among Myanmar people living overseas.

Moreover, media agencies were established for that purpose. Silent Talk media, which is headed by former military intelligence officer Ye Moe Oo, was sponsored by a pro-military businessman. Admiral Moe Aung funded The Fifth Wave media outlet and the Thayninga Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-tank formed by ex-military officers, according to those who have worked for those media outlets.

Funded by some USDP leaders, People Media and Bullet Journal, led by former military officer U Hla Swe, are well-known media outlets which primarily featured news reports and opinion pieces deemed to be defamatory to NLD leaders and lawmakers. Some reports were truthful, but some were falsified.

Those media outlets sponsored by the military and the USDP kept a low-profile under the NLD government. But since the coup, they are out in the open and asking questions in support of the military regime at junta press conferences.

Through those media outlets and Facebook, which is virtually synonymous with the internet in Myanmar, the military and the USDP spread false narratives that the peace process and the economy barely achieved progress under the NLD government.

The Office of Military Security Affairs and Special Branch searched for any information about NLD members that could do damage to the party’s reputation. They then forwarded the information to military-linked media which turned them into stories mixed with misinformation.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD leaders kept their noses clean during their tenure. Former President U Htin Kyaw handed an envelope enclosing the list of his assets to the Union Parliament when he assumed office, and he did not take it back when he stepped down so that his wealth before and after his presidency could be checked. However, USDP president U Thein Sein took back his envelope when he left office.

When making official foreign trips, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint never used money from state funds for themselves, and returned any surplus funds along with receipts and financial statements.

Under the NLD government, businessmen who usually accompanied senior government figures on visits to foreign countries under the previous government were not allowed to join government delegations.

Government officials are entitled to a quota of fuel provided monthly from state funds. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government leaders always returned their monthly leftovers.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi exercised zero tolerance for corruption and extramarital affairs among her government ministers. Lawmakers who had affairs or were involved in sex scandals were not selected as candidates for the 2020 general election.

The NLD government also reformed the Anti-Corruption Commission and amended the Anti-Corruption Law to make it tougher on bribery and corruption. As a result, departments long known to be corrupt reported a significant increase in revenue.

The revenue from municipal works, which is a major source of income for region and state governments, increased almost three times compared to the revenue under U Thein Sein’s government. That revenue benefitted the country’s infrastructure.

In the 2020 general election, the NLD repeated its victory of 2015. But the military seized power on the pretext that the election was marred by fraud. It then made further attempts to destroy Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation.

Her power is not in weapons and her wealth is not about money. The strength of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi lies in the public support and esteem for her.

The military accused her of corruption and imprisoned her so as to defame her. It also charged NLD party and government leaders under the Anti-Corruption Law and put them behind bars.

In one of the corruption cases brought against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, she was accused of accepting gold and US dollars from former Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein. She was sentenced to prison, even though there was no evidence. U Phyo Min Thein, who is too sick to stay in jail, was forced to testify against her. His wife reportedly took poison as she did not want to make a false statement. But she was saved by the military regime.

Army chiefs who have accused Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption are some of the wealthiest people in Myanmar. Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s son and daughter are now on the list of the richest people in Myanmar following their father’s coup.

Offspring of other military leaders as well as USDP leaders are also very wealthy. But their official salaries are chicken feed compared to the value of the cheapest luxury car in their fleet of vehicles.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has only one house which she inherited from her parents. President U Win Myint does not even own a house.

But military and USDP leaders have luxury homes in Yangon, Naypyitaw and Pyin Oo Lwin, and fleets of luxury cars.

Those who have amassed material wealth through dishonest means have accused and imprisoned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is rich only in integrity. They attempted to defame Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and undermine public trust her. But the Myanmar people do not believe their lies.

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