YANGON—On this day in 1958, Prime Minister U Nu of the democratically elected Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) government, in order to help address civil disturbances caused by factions among AFPFL leaders, handed over power to the Myanmar military led by General Ne Win, and asked him to organize a free and fair election for the sake of the country.
In his radio address through the then Burma Broadcasting Service that day, U Nu made a special request that people show as much support for Gen. Ne Win as they did to him. Along with his speech, two letters were aired on the radio. In one letter, U Nu offered to hand power to Gen. Ne Win, and in the other, Gen. Ne Win said he accepted the offer.
The incident happened 10 years after Myanmar’s independence as a result of power struggles among AFPFL leaders and marked the first time the military had become involved in politics.
The caretaker government led by Gen. Ne Win took over on Oct. 28, one month and two days after U Nu proposed handing over power. During its 17 months of rule, the caretaker government arrested politicians and sent them to the Coco Islands in the Andaman Sea, carried out assaults that accelerated the civil war, and took other repressive measures. People who had become used to practicing democracy in the years after 1948 were thus unhappy with the caretaker government.
However, Gen. Ne Win had pledged complete impartiality in the election and conducted a successful multiparty general election in 1960. U Nu, who again won the election, thanked Gen. Ne Win for his support in maintaining democracy in Myanmar.
However, less than two years later Gen. Ne Win staged a coup, effectively ending democracy in Myanmar. Gen. Ne Win ruled the country as a military dictator for the next 26 years. As a consequence, Myanmar’s military still maintains a strong grip on the country’s politics, and removing it from the political arena continues to prove difficult.
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