On This Day

The Day Myanmar’s First President and Prime Minister Were Elected

By Wei Yan Aung 25 September 2019

YANGON—On this day 72 years ago, the Union Parliament established under the 1947 constitution elected Shan Saopha (or Shan State feudal lord) Sao Shwe Thaik as Myanmar’s first president and U Nu as its first prime minister, more than 100 years after colonial rule began. 

U Nu became prime minister due to the assassination of independence hero General Aung San. In the interests of national reconciliation, Gen. Aung San’s choice for the presidency had been Htaung Paing Saopha (or the feudal lord of Htaung Paing). However, Htaung Paing Saopha’s spouse had British ancestry, so the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League declined to select him for the presidency and Sao Shwe Thaik was chosen instead.

At the time, the government had the appearance of a genuinely federal administration, as Lieutenant-General Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen, led the Myanmar Army while Sao Shwe Thaik was a Shan and U Nu was a Bamar. 

However, 10 years after Myanmar regained independence in 1948, the role of ethnic people had declined due to civil war, as well as factional and power struggles among Burmese politicians, with the military becoming more and more involved in politics. 

When the military staged a coup in 1962, 15 years to the day after Sao Shwe Thaik and U Nu were elected as president and prime minister, the pair were immediately arrested. 

U Nu was detained by the military for five years. Sao Shwe Thaik died in prison of unknown causes some eight months after his detention. Ethnic people were rarely appointed to leadership positions in the successive military governments that followed.

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