Junta Watch

Junta Watch: Regime boss targets ‘Western culture’; Than Shwe Falls From Favor; and More

By The Irrawaddy 4 March 2023

Min Aung Hlaing bans Western culture in name of Buddhism

Children take part in a Halloween party at a private school in Yangon.

A leaked instruction issued by junta boss Min Aung Hlaing to his education minister to ban private schools from teaching Western “democratic culture” recently went viral online.

According to the instruction dated Feb. 17, the junta boss made the suggestion at his cabinet meeting on Jan. 6. Thanks to xenophobic generals, it appears that celebrations of western culture like the Halloween festival will be banned in the name of Buddhist culture.

On the other hand, to give the impression that universities are thriving despite a widespread boycott under military rule, the regime is permitting wild water parties accompanied by Western disco music on campuses. University students traditionally throw water at each other before exams in March as they may not see each other in April when Myanmar celebrates its New Year Thingyan Festival. The regime has been silent about these water parties even though they deviate from traditional norms of the Thingyan Festival.

Has Than Shwe really retired?

Former junta chief Than Shwe in 2005. / AFP

Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing issued a condolence message over the death of Daw Kyi Khin, the elder sister of former military dictator Than Shwe, via junta-controlled newspapers on Wednesday. Surprisingly, he did not mention the name of Than Shwe, who handpicked him as the military chief, or his wife Kyaing Kyaing.

This led to widespread speculation that Than Shwe no longer enjoys the power and influence he is thought to have exerted over the military and politics since stepping down in 2011.

The speculation has merit given the regime’s contrasting reaction to the recent death of U Ohn Myint, the Mines Minister in Than Shwe’s State Law and Order Restoration Council government. U Ohn Myint’s demise triggered an outpouring of public condolence messages from Min Aung Hlaing and dozens of others including cabinet members, tycoons and former government officials.

Meanwhile, the 91-year-old former military dictator, who ruled the country for two decades, retains at least a ceremonial presence in the current junta. He was recently spotted visiting the gargantuan Maravijaya Buddha statue that Min Aung Hlaing is having built on the outskirts of Naypyitaw.

A token of love from junta boss to his wife

Min Aung Hlaing and Kyu Kyu Hla offer a meal to Sitagu Sayadaw in 2022. / Cincds

Min Aung Hlaing has made himself a laughingstock again, this time by bestowing the title of Agga Maha Thiri Thudhamma Theingi on his wife Kyu Kyu Hla for “contributing significantly to the flowering and propagation of Buddhism.” The junta boss considers himself the protector of Buddhism in Myanmar and apparently wants to honor his better half, who accompanies him on “merit-making” visits to consecrate pagodas, including one in the Russian capital Moscow.

Min Aung Hlaing has conferred the same title on other military wives, including Kyaing Kyaing, the spouse of former dictator Than Shwe, who chose Min Aung Hlaing as his military chief.

Other recipients were Mya Mya San, the wife of Than Shwe’s deputy Maung Aye; Khin Khin Win, the wife of former president general Thein Sein; Khin Thet Thay, wife of the junta’s acting president Myint Swe; Than Than Nwe, wife of the late Soe Win, prime minister of the former military regime; and Nan Shwe Hmone, wife of Sai Mauk Kham, vice president in Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.

Last year, the junta boss awarded himself two of Myanmar’s highest honors. Perhaps feeling uneasy at being the sole recipient, he tried to drag in others, and conferred titles on his predecessors  Ne Win, Saw Maung and Than Shwe.

While Ne Win and Than Shwe earned notoriety as power-hungry dictators, they never had the vanity to award themselves and their wives with honorary titles. In doing so, Min Aung Hlaing can rightfully claim the title of most ludicrous dictator of all time in Myanmar.