On This Day

The Day Three Myanmar Banknotes Suddenly Became Worthless

By Wei Yan Aung 5 September 2019

YANGON—On this day 32 years ago, the government of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) announced the demonetizing of Myanmar’s 25-, 35- and 75-kyat notes in a move that would eventually bring about the fall of one-party dictatorship under military dictator General Ne Win.

The BSPP government had demonetized certain banknotes on two previous occasions in 1964 and 1985, but it had compensated affected note-holders. But in September 1987, when it demonetized the banknotes—which accounted for around 80 percent of the money in circulation in Myanmar at the time—it offered no compensation at all.

The move resulted in appalling financial hardship for many people, and the government drew the ire of people in all walks of life. Some students took to the streets in downtown Yangon in Sule and Insein to protest against the government.

Coupled with the government’s general mismanagement and other flawed policies, the demonetization contributed to Myanmar’s descent into the list of least developed countries. While the economic hardship and political repression fueled anti-government sentiment, these were heightened when the government brutally quelled a number of student protests in March and June of 1988.

Finally, people from all walks of life took to the streets in August 1988 in a popular protest to demand democracy, which later became known as the 8888 pro-democracy uprising—a turning point in Myanmar’s history that ended the 26-year repressive rule of Gen. Ne Win.