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OPINION ON THE CURRENT REGIME CHANG
Opinion on the current regime changes (Written by Moe Thee Zun)
The SLORC started restructuring itself into the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC) on November 15,1997,
announcing a series of notifications: No. 1/97, 2/97,
3/97. Burma watchers have offered different opinions about what
the changes really mean.
In fact, the military always makes superficial changes whenever
it faces a political crisis. Over the past 35 years, the
military junta has changed the name of country three times,
changed the constitution twice and has adopted four different
names for its ruling body - the latest being the SPDC.
Now the military junta has again changed its name and changed
some positions, but there has been no move toward the much-needed
Also, the military junta could not yet come up with an
appropriate strategy in the areas of politics, economics, social
welfare and education. As there has yet been no clear policy
explanation in the notifications, the junta does not seem to have
considered or even recognized the current demanding issues in
Burma; in particular, national reconciliation, democracy, human
rights, and tri-partite dialogue.
As the change is only one in name, the transformation from the
SLORC to the SPDC should be considered as the same as the
previous change from the BSPP to the SLORC. Like the Burmese
saying, no matter how many times a snake sloughs off its skin, it
is still the same (poisonous). Moreover, the change did not come
about as the result of a legal process and the SPDC has no more
legitimacy than the SLORC did. Therefore, we are not pleased with
the latest transformation.
Why did the SLORC change?
It is necessary to question why the SLORC changed its name to
the SPDC. The junta has been facing a serious crisis and the
possibility of a general uprising.
There are three main reasons for the change, namely:
1. Economic crisis in the country
2. Discrepancy among the military factions.
3. International pressure
Obviously, the current economic woes have an impact even on the
military itself as well as the general public. Prices of basic
necessary foodstuffs such as rice, cooking oil, chili, onion,
garlic, beans, etc... are skyrocketing. Also the price of meat,
including chicken, beef, pork has also increased incredibly up to
round about 500- 600 kyats per viss (1.53 Kg). One viss of prawns
is now 3000 kyats. Shortages of petrol and electricity in the
country have resulted in rising petrol prices. For example, a
gallon of gasoline now costs 180 kyat in Rangoon and Mandalay,
and it is not available as necessary in the rest of the country.
A normal truck can get only two gallons of petrol a week.
Consequently the transportation of commodities from one place to
another has decreased.
The monthly salary of government employees is 1500 kyat per month
maximum. Every month, they have to repay 500 kyats for the
government loans which they were forced to take last year. Also,
200 kyat is cut for rice rations. Moreover, other taxes are
deducted for so many reasons such as social welfare, electricity,
water supply, house rental, fire brigade, entertainment,
religious ceremonies, horse parades and boat racing ceremonies,
and finally they are usually left with only 6-7 kyats in hand.
They have no money for health care and education for their
children, and they are hardly surviving with rice in the amount
of 200 kyat. Unfortunately, the widespread destruction of rice
fields following the recent floods in Mon State, Irrawaddy
division, Arakan State, Karen State and Pegu division will lead
to the shortage of food in the very near future.
The problem of currency inflation is also getting much worse, and
it is because of the military's unlimited printing of kyat notes,
laundering money from the drug trade, and the uncontrollable
circulation of counterfeit kyats. One dollar is now equivalent to
almost 300 kyat and the kyat is expected to drop even further in
the future. Because of the serious instability of the Kyat,
business people have lost faith in it. As a result, the prices of
land, housing, and gold have risen dramatically. For example, the
price of land in Golden Valley in Rangoon is almost as high as
became almost similar to that of Mac Helton in US. Rental charges
for opening offices are now US $ 1000 to 2000 per room.
As the 1996 Visit Myanmar Year campaign failed, hotels are left
with many empty rooms. In one recent check at the Traders Hotel,
only 10 rooms out of 400 were occupied. There were only a few
visitors at the Novotel as well. Two months ago, 500 employees,
including nine foreigners, from the hotel business were let go.
The unemployment rate has increased and almost one million
Burmese workers have crossed into Thailand to find jobs.
Universities have been shut down for one year already, causing
the anti-government sentiments of the students to grow more and
more. At the same time, the monks' anger toward the government
has also grown because the monks' examinations have been
postponed since April 1997, many monks continue to be detained in
prisons, and the military's theft of precious stones from the
abdomen of the Mahamyatmuni Buddha image in Mandalay. And these
issues are causing resentment to build not only amonng the
general public but also within in the military itself. With the
peoples' anger at the military elites growing, general strikes
could take place at any time for any reason.
Secondly, rivalries among different military factions are also
becoming more obvious. It is mainly because of the corruption and
unequal opportunities for personal profit, particularly among the
Military Intelligence Units, Army, Navy and Air Force at
different levels. At the same time, there have been long-standing
power struggles between the OTS (Officer Training School) and the
DSA (Defense Service Academy) batches in the military. These
conditions are likely to lead to the collapse of the junta.
Three major factions can be clearly identified in the military
since a long time ago. These are the Kyaw Ba-Tun Kyi-Myint Aung
faction, the Maung Aye-Tin Oo faction and Khin Nyunt's
intelligence faction. As usual, in the military history of
factional politics, two factions always become allied to beat the
other one. Here again, the Maung Aye- Tin Oo faction and the Khin
Nyunt faction made a temporary alliance in order to defeat the
Kyaw Ba- Tun Kyi- Myint Aung faction. There have been reports
that the corrupted Lt. Generals faction (Kyaw Ba et al.) have
recently faced interrogation by other members of the SPDC. In
reality the issue of corruption was just an excuse to remove them
from power, and this should be seen as the result of a power
struggle among the military factions. Later, it is likely that a
power struggle will emerge between Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt's
Thirdly, international pressure has been mounting. SLORC generals
become depressed when the US imposed economic sanctions on the
junta. It is still impossible for the junta to improve their bad
image for their appalling human rights abuses, their involvement
in the drug trade and their money laundering activities. ASEAN
governments and other governments which are friendly to the junta
such as Japan and other potential business partners have been
really worrying about the junta's worsening image and its
instability. They have been quietly suggesting that the junta
make some superficial changes so that it looks more respectable.
Moreover, it is also obvious that U Ne Win played an important
role in this restructuring as it happened just after his trip to
Indonesia and Singapore.
The general scenario of the country is much worse than the
situation was in 1988. The junta also realises that the current
bad situation is likely to lead to a general strike. Therefore,
the junta has made some preparations in case there is a mass
movement, in particular, the emptying of Insein prison by
transferring prisoners to other prisons in order to arrest more
activists and even some critics in the military itself.
My opinion on the current change
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
(1)Rivalaries among the different military factions have become
more intense than ever before. In this current change, the Maung
Aye- Tin Oo faction got the upper hand over the Khin Nyunt
faction. Most of the new faces in the SPDC, in particular Khin
Maung Than, Sit Maung, Ye Myint and Kyaw Win are Maung Aye's
absolute followers while the remaining members will not dare to
oppose him. But, both factions seem to share the same negative
opinion about the democracy movement. In fact, the only issue
which at times unites and at times divides them is their own
2. The SPDC is primarily a policy-making body, and it has much
more power than the other two branches: the Cabinet and the
Advisory Board. Basically, the SPDC consists of two main groups,
the four old top brass and the other 15 new faces who do not have
much experience yet. Than Shwe appears to have a symbolic post
but no power. He is getting old and is not in good health. Now 67
years old, he should retire, but the problem is that if Than Shwe
retires, Maung Aye who has the same seniority as many other
generals_ in particular, Kyaw Ba, Maung Hla, Ket Sein, Hla Myint
Swe and Tun Kyi who are still in the military_ would have to
replace him. Maung Aye doesn't want to replace Than Shwe until
he can put his own supporter in his current position.
Maung Aye handled this move cleverly by kicking his rivals out of
influential roles through sending them to the newly formed
advisory board and cabinet posts. At the same time, he brought in
new faces and also young regional commanders to take over
economically profitable and influential posts in the SPDC.
Overall, what we can say is that Maung Aye now has relatively
more power than his rivals. But, as the new faces are not very
experienced, the new body will be not do much work and will not
last long. This new formation cannot last long and we expect
there will be more changes soon.
3. Regarding the rivalries between the factions of Maung Aye and
Khin Nyunt, Maung Aye's group has been getting the upper hand but
still cannot not absolutely beat Khin Nyunt's faction. Tension
between the factions and more private dissention are likely in
the days ahead. There will be conflicts between the three
different branches and problems because of differences in
4. One unusual feature of this new structure is two newly-created
posts, Secretary 3, and the minister for Military Affairs.
Previously Tin Hla was supposed to be promoted to Secretary 3,
but it didn't happen. Now, Win Myint has been appointed as
Secretary 3 instead. So, another new post had to be created for
Tin Hla so he wouldn't be disappointed. Win Myint was previously
the quartermaster general and before that the Western divisional
commander, an unpopular post because there are few opportunities
for financial gain in the western region. (The military junta
usually appoints less capable individuals to
It is comprised of 40 members in 40 ministerial posts. Than Shwe
is still in the prime minister's post
together with two deputy prime ministers, Maung Maung Khin (Air
force) and Tin Htun (Navy). The Navy and Air Force have never had
any real influence or power in the history of dictatorial rule in
Burma. It merely looks like the power of the Navy, Air Force and
Army are somewhat balanced in this structure.
The Cabinet members have much more experience than most of the
SPDC members. Almost all of the Lt. Generals who were in
Ministerial posts under the SLORC have been transferred to the
powerless advisory board. 29 out of the 40 are old men while only
11 are new to the ministerial structure. The formation looks
inflated as some posts are really not needed but just created for
the appearance of power sharing, for example the newly created
military affairs ministry. Tin Hla, the minister for military
affairs, was once a former 22nd division commander, and is a
hardliner and one of Maung Aye's men.
The minister of cooperatives, U Than Aung (a former Lt. Col. and
also a Maung Aye man), is almost as corrupt as Tun Kyi, Kyaw Ba
and Myint Aung and is still in the same ministerial post. The
railway minister, U Win Sein (former Lt. Col), who is considered
as having one of the most hardline policies against Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi, is also still left in the same ministerial post (U Win
Sein even told a SLORC meeting this year that DASSK should be
sentenced with the death penalty). These two examples show that
the newly formed SPDC might not change its policy on Aung San Suu
Kyi and the democratic forces, and that those with good support
from above are not removed, regardless of their activities and
This board is very unusual, and the military has never created
this kind of advisory board before. One thing for sure is
that this board was created for the Lt Generals; in particular,
Kyaw Ba, Phone Myint, Myint Aung, Tun Kyi. They will have no
power to influence the newly formed SPDC.
Will the SPDC resolve the current political problems or is it
committed to launch a real change?
The debate on whether the transformation of the SLORC to
the SPDC will lead to a real change or not will, in fact, be
proven very soon through the means it uses to tackle the
current political problems.
-How will they deal with the national convention?
- Will they try to solve the underlying political problems
following the agreements on mere ceasefires with the armed ethnic
-What will be the SPDC opinion on the KNU and the KNPP?
-What will be their opinion on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?
-What kind of relationship will the SPDC have with Ne Win, the
person who is most responsible for human rights violations in
Burma? (Because the relationship between the SLORC and Ne Win was
In conclusion, the new structure was formed not to resolve the
country's current political problems but just to resolve the
military's own internal conflicts. Maung Aye's group has gotten
the upper hand over Khin Nyunt. Their aim is also to fool the
people of Burma and the international community that some changes
are being made to handle the current political and economic woes.
They will probably issue an amnesty and start releasing some
political prisoners who have already finished their prison terms.
They will announce that they do not recognise the results of the
1990 general election, which was held under the SLORC. They will
put more pressure on the ceasefire groups in many ways, including
military pressure. They may launch a military offensive against
the United Wa State Party (UWSP) and some other ethnic groups
under the pretext of an anti-drug campaign.
Our campaign against the SPDC
Instead of taking a wait-and-see approach toward the SPDC, we
should do the following campaigns.
1. Pressure the SPDC for tri-partite dialogue by public
mobilisation and international campaigns
2. Follow up on the US sanctions on Burma by organising other
potential countries such as Japan, Australia, ASEAN and EU
3. Convince the Thai government, military, National Security
Council, Thai opposition parties, and Thai activists to support
the democratisation process in Burma.
4. Start a campaign against the SPDC members at the international
level because of their involvement in the drug trade, money
laundering and human rights violations. (For example- ban on
visa, raising the issues in an international court of justice)
Finally, as the SPDC cannot resolve the current political and
economic crisis, the people may well take to the streets again
like in 1988. As a result of this general strike, the SPDC will
be terminated and discarded like previous military led
Anyway, I do believe that the latest military-led body, the SPDC,
will be the last one, and will be a stepping stone toward a
democratic future. Lets bravely move forward and achieve victory.
I N T E R N E T KSC Chiang Mai