On This Day

The Day Suu Kyi Met Her Jailer and Ex-Myanmar Junta Leader

By The Irrawaddy 4 December 2021

On this day in 2015, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met former military dictator Senior General Than Shwe, who kept her under house arrest for most of his 19 years in power.

The meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her jailer came less than a month after she had led the National League for Democracy (NLD) Party to a comprehensive victory in the November 2015 general election. Two days before the meeting, the NLD chair met then President U Thein Sein — whose party served as the military’s proxy — and army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is Than Shwe’s protégé.

Snr-Gen Than Shwe was the architect of the 2008 constitution, which was designed to guarantee executive and legislative representation for the Myanmar military after the country started progress towards democracy in 2010. Snr-Gen Than Shwe headed the then junta until he stepped down in 2011, transferring power to a quasi-civilian government led by his ally and former general Thein Sein.

Although Than Shwe has not been seen in public since transferring power, many believe he is still politically involved behind the scenes.

Shortly after the NLD’s landslide victory in the November 8, 2015 election, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proposed a meeting with Snr-Gen Than Shwe, U Thein Sein, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and the then Parliament Speaker U Shwe Mann to discuss national reconciliation and the implementation of the poll results.

At the request of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, U Shwe Mann, who served in top positions under Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s regime, visited his mentor twice to arrange the meeting. Snr-Gen Than Shwe replied that he would select a date after informing the president and the army chief.

It was the first meeting since January 2002 for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who she addresses as “Uncle”. There were no official reports of their discussion, which attracted local and international attention.

U Shwe Mann wrote in his book She, I and Myanmar’s Politics that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi treated the senior man with respect and modesty, and described her as smart and worthy of praise. He added that Snr-Gen Than Shwe said that “we have to recognize that she has become the leader of the country. Not just now, we have to recognize her if she is elected again in 2020. We have to support her if she makes the country good”.

The day after the meeting, Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s grandson Nay Shwe Thway Aung posted on his Facebook an image of a banknote signed by his grandfather, U Thein Sein, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, referring to each of them as Myanmar leaders.

Political power was transferred to the NLD as promised, but Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was barred from becoming the country’s president under the 2008 constitution crafted by Snr-Gen Than Shwe because her sons hold foreign citizenship. Instead, the new position of State Counselor was created for her. When Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s son-in-law, former Brigadier General Thein Naing, died in 2019, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent a condolence letter to the former military strongman.

After the 2020 general election extended the public mandate for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, the military responded by staging the February 1 coup, breaking the word of Snr-Gen Than Shwe who had promised to recognize the 2020 election result.

Currently, Snr-Gen Than Shwe lives in a lavish villa in Pobbathiri Township in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw, where his neighbor is U Thein Sein. Meanwhile, ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint are being detained by the military regime in an unknown location in Naypyitaw and face an array of charges.

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