Junta Watch

Junta Watch: Defying the World on Executions; Splashing Cash While Urging Frugality; and More

By The Irrawaddy 11 June 2022

Junta chief on an expensive ego trip

Min Aung Hlaing continues to squander public funds on vanity projects; most recently in an attempt to portray himself as the country’s supreme sports patron. On June 3, he awarded more than 1.32 billion kyats (over US$700,000) to Myanmar athletes who won medals at the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam in May—quite a sum considering Myanmar finished seventh in a region with just 11 countries.

The junta chief awarded $3,000 to each gold medalist, $2,000 per silver and $1,000 for a bronze. The Myanmar women’s football team pocketed a cool $100,000 for reaching the final. Myanmar bagged seven gold, 18 silver and 35 bronze medals at the SEA Games.

The junta chief held a separate event at Naypyitaw’s Bayaintnaung Hall just for military personnel among the medalists, again honoring them and celebrating their achievements along with other top brass. He called the military medalists the “pride of the Tatmadaw”, showering them with more cash awards, certificates of honor and promotions. The Tatmadaw is Myanmar’s military.

Despite his repeated calls on the public and on regime ministers to tighten their belts, Min Aung Hlaing has been spending freely. Besides splashing huge sums on constructing and consecrating pagodas, he spent more than 1.5 billion kyats on honorary titles that he conferred on generals, ethnic leaders and artists to mark the traditional Myanmar New Year’s Day in April.

Perhaps he really is stupid enough to believe that handing out a few awards and titles can win him recognition as the country’s legitimate leader.

Teachers continue to shun regime’s education system

Teachers take part in a sit-in protest against the military coup on Feb. 9, 2021, a few days after the military staged a coup. / The Irrawaddy

As schools opened on June 1, the regime, which is seriously short of experienced teachers, urged striking educators to return to their classrooms. But among the hundreds of thousands on strike, only 2,960 have so far contacted the regime about returning.

The increasingly desperate situation has forced the regime to twice extend its initial deadline for teachers to return without facing legal consequences. It originally set a return-to-work period of May 17-31, but only 2,482 teachers registered. Extending the deadline to June 7 netted just 400 more, prompting the regime to again push back the deadline, until June 14.

And in public schools for basic education, more than 100,000 of 450,000 teachers and education staff—or around 27 percent—have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement of striking government workers, according to an initial announcement by the Ministry of Education issued on April 23.

According to the regime, 5.2 million students had enrolled in schools by June 1. At the same time, the parallel National Union Government is running virtual and physical classrooms with the help of striking teachers.

The regime said it would treat the absence of returning strikers as unpaid leave, with anyone except those who have committed serious crimes welcome to return to their jobs.

Doubling down on executions

Ko Jimmy (left) and Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw (right)

Sending another signal that it intends to carry out the death sentences imposed on former National League for Democracy lawmaker Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and veteran democracy activist Ko Jimmy on terrorism charges, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said on Thursday the regime was punishing those who commit killings in accordance with the law, without any political motivation. The junta says the two activists masterminded armed resistance against it in Yangon.

Min Aung Hlaing’s statement could be interpreted as an act of defiance by the regime in the face of mounting local and international condemnation of the looming executions. It’s also the first time he has appeared to comment on the issue since his regime’s spokesperson confirmed last week that the duo and two others would be hanged in accordance with their death sentences handed down early this year.

If the hangings proceed, the men will be the first political dissidents executed in Myanmar since ethnic Chin student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo was put to death by dictator General Ne Win’s authoritarian regime at Yangon’s Insein Prison in 1976.

Political commentators and others expressed concern that executing regime opponents would spark an all-out war against the junta and lead to even worse bloodshed throughout Myanmar, which is already being rocked by daily fighting between regime troops and anti-junta resistance forces across the country.

Coup maker visits birthplace of 2008 Constitution

Min Aung Hlaing visits the main hall where the national convention was held to draft the 2008 Constitution, on June 8, 2022.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing described the buildings in which the 2008 Constitution was drafted as being of historic importance for the country, and called for proper maintenance of the site to ensure its preservation for posterity, when he visited the venue in Nyaungnabin Village in Yangon’s Hlegu Township on Wednesday.

The main building, now crumbling, covered in dust and overgrown with bushes, was the venue of the National Convention, also known as the Nyaungnabin Convention, at which the country’s third constitution was put together. Drafted between 2004 and 2007 on the instructions of then-military dictator Than Shwe, the charter was designed to maintain the military’s grip on power after the country embarked on its “democratic transition”. More than 1,000 representatives, most of whom were instructed to rubber-stamp the regime’s proposed provisions, lived a comfortable life in those buildings for years, at the public’s expense. 

Chairman of the convention and Secretary-2 of the State Peace and Development Council Lieutenant General Thein Sein became president in 2011 based on the provisions adopted at the convention he chaired. The buildings were left to rot after the constitution was adopted.

Despite being widely criticized as undemocratic, the constitution was ratified in a national referendum held a few days after parts of the country were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, with a death toll believed to number over 100,000.

To Myanmar’s people, the buildings symbolize only the military’s inhumanity and hunger for power.

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