Junta Watch

Junta Watch: Coup Leader Starstruck by Putin; Media Crackdown Set to Worsen; and More

By The Irrawaddy 10 September 2022

Screws tighten on media

Junta spokesman and deputy information minister Major General Zaw Min Tun signs an agreement on media cooperation between the junta’s mouthpiece Myawady TV and Russia’s state-owned Sputnik News Agency.

Just as the military junta escalates its crackdown on independent media in Myanmar, it was decided at a meeting on Tuesday led by the regime’s Union Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs Daw Thida Oo to amend the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law, indicating that more restrictions are on their way to curb free voices in Myanmar.

For many years under the previous military regime, the Information Ministry’s notorious Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, jokingly known as the “Press Kenpeitai” after the brutal Japanese military police unit during World War II, imposed a draconian system of pre-publication censorship. It was only abolished in late 2012 as part of media reforms, allowing uncensored private dailies to come into circulation in 2013.

The Printing and Publishing Law promulgated in 2014 provided greater freedom for independent media in Myanmar. But since the coup, the junta-controlled Information Ministry has been stretching the law and imposing it as it pleases, stripping local outlets of their media licenses and prosecuting journalists. So far, it has revoked the licenses of nine media outlets, two printing houses and four publishing houses.

From what we have seen of the regime’s treatment of independent media so far, the amendments are likely to include the resurrection of draconian censorship, and harsh penalties for failing to comply. At the same time, the regime has teamed up with Russia’s state-owned media Sputnik.

Coup leader’s electric car dreams persist

While people in Myanmar have had to increasingly rely on power banks to keep their cell phones working, the junta’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy is planning to establish five charging stations for electric cars along the Yangon-Mandalay Highway.

Each charging station will have the capacity to charge 50 vehicles at the same time, according to a letter sent by the Naypyitaw Electricity Supply Enterprise to its Yangon and Naypyitaw branches. The letter asked the two branches to detail which power stations along the highway can supply power for the charging stations.

To Myanmar people, Min Aung Hlaing’s fantasy of creating a metro rail system and an electric bus network is a running joke.

In June, the regime even formed a national committee to lead the development of electric vehicles and related businesses, chaired by Defense Minister General Mya Tun Oo, a member of the regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council (SAC). Transport Minister General Tin Aung San, who is also on the SAC, serves as the vice chair of the committee.

Less than a month after the coup, Min Aung Hlaing promoted his idea of producing electric cars to reduce the country’s fuel imports. In contrast to these delusions of grandeur, the reality since the military takeover has been widespread blackouts that have continued for months until today. Lately, public buses are even being forced to reduce their operating hours due to fuel price hikes.

But none of this has deterred Min Aung Hlaing, who persists with his electric car plan. If he is not totally deluded, he is surely doing this just for show.

Min Aung Hlaing finally gets his photo-op with Putin

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum on Sept. 7, 2022.

During his latest trip to Russia this week, Myanmar’s junta leader looked like a child visiting a zoo as he was granted his first audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a foreign investment forum in the Russian Far East. As the head of a regime internationally shunned for grabbing power from Myanmar’s democratically elected government and killing at least 2,000 people so far for rejecting military rule, it is the first time the coup leader has been welcomed by an international head of state. To Min Aung Hlaing’s delight, the Russian president addressed him as “Mr. Prime Minister”—a position not recognized locally or internationally. It could help to explain Min Aung Hlaing’s beaming visage during the meeting, as captured in photos. To show his gratitude for this acceptance, the junta chief praised his host as “a leader of the world” who had brought about international stability, ignoring the devastation Putin has wrought through his invasion of Ukraine.

But Min Aung Hlaing came across as simply delusional when he shamelessly claimed to Russian news agency RIA that the situation in Myanmar was under control. To the contrary, local and international media as well as foreign observers unanimously agree that his regime is still not in control of the country, and is in fact losing territory to resistance groups who have taken up arms to fight his rule. Even former UN experts on Myanmar said in a recent analysis that the revolutionary forces have effective control over 52 percent of the territory of the country.

All in all, Putin’s acceptance of Min Aung Hlaing is simply a case of Russia seeking to offset the negative impact of international sanctions by luring a small regime in Asia as a possible source of extra income by selling it more arms, oil and other necessities that Min Aung Hlaing might find helpful. The junta’s claim of Myanmar being under his control is nothing more than face saving.

Destroyer of farms offers ‘food security’

Min Aung Hlaing addresses the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing shared his “insight” on the importance of food at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia on Wednesday, saying food provides energy for humans to survive. He included his finding in his discussion “Myanmar’s Crucial Role in Food Security and Better Opportunities for Investment.” He said Myanmar can produce enough basic food items for its own needs while also exporting agricultural and livestock products to neighboring and other countries, adding, “If friendly countries can offer help, agricultural production can be doubled, contributing a lot to food security.”

Do not take his words seriously, however: He was lying.

Contrary to his boast of being able to “contribute a lot to food security”, Myanmar is on the verge of starving due to his regime’s mismanagement on every front. Fuel shortages have been reported for months, prompting prices of necessities like rice, the country’s main staple food, to soar. Farmers are complaining of a surge in imported chemical fertilizer prices due to the regime’s restrictions on foreign exchange rates, heralding a sharp decrease in yields. Rice and other farms upcountry are deserted, as locals flee for their lives as Min Aung Hlaing’s troops raid farming communities there and torch whole villages. On the ground, this month people are paying 2,100 kyats per viss (about 1.6 kg) for the lowest grade of rice, up 75 percent from April.

So remember—dictators never tell the truth.