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23 – 29 August: The Emperor’s New Clothes?

By Burma Partnership  •  August 30, 2010

In the latest of a series of resignations in the military, reports emerged on Friday that eight top military officials resigned from their military posts, possibly including Senior General Than Shwe and his deputy, General Maung Aye. The reports have yet to be confirmed. However, if accurate, Than Shwe would remain the head of state until the end of the 2011 financial year, at which point he is expected to hand over power to the incoming elected government.

The reshuffling has been largely viewed as a premeditated move, with former generals poised to take on leading posts in the yet-to-be-elected government. Former General Shwe Mann, Than Shwe’s third-in-command, is widely tipped to take on the role of president, a role reserved for ‘civilians’. Notably, the 2008 Constitution stipulates president and vice president “shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union, such as…military”. As such, candidates must have intimate knowledge or experience serving in the military, rendering most civilians ineligible for the post.

Parallels have been drawn to former dictator Ne Win’s resignation from the army in 1974, when he subsequently declared himself to be the president of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. However, the move also calls to mind the classic children’s fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this real life version, Than Shwe may believe that he is pulling the wool over our eyes with his new civilian clothes, but his real military colours will still be visible underneath.

The military shake up, only months ahead of the elections, further serves to bolster the popular belief that the junta is attempting to consolidate power under a civilian guise through the elections. The constitution grants the military full independence and impunity, as well as the ability to reassert full power in a “state of emergency”. This reshuffling allows the regime to also retain control over the supposedly civilian government, as outlined in the 2008 Constitution.

The former military officials’ shift into civilian garb is also an attempt to gain greater domestic and international legitimacy. The regime is well aware that people both inside and outside Burma will balk at the appointment of military officials to the presidency and other leading governmental roles. However, the regime is operating on the belief that some governments may see this civilian guise as an opportunity to engage with Burma without having to suffer criticism for supporting an oppressive military dictatorship. The international community must not accept the regime’s maneuverings; a change of clothes is not a change of heart.

News Highlights

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi calls upon the NLD and the people of Burma to monitor and speak out about any manipulation in the election process

NDF leader Khin Maung Swe withdraws from the elections after being asked to submit a second appeal against high treason charges

Inside Burma

Imprisoned 88 Generation leaders remain defiant and opposed to the elections

Opposition parties likely only able to contest for less than 50% of seats due to junta’s campaign restrictions and requirements; USDP will win in all uncontested constituencies

Three political parties enter into an alliance to avoid contesting in the same constituencies to collectively run against the USDP

Many voters plan to boycott the elections if only a USDP candidate in their constituency

Union Democratic Party criticizes ‘stubborn’ election commission

National Union Party lodges complaint against USDP in Pegu Division

USDP steps up campaigning in Pegu Division, prompting questions as to the origins of the funds

Vaccination programme in Rangoon forces parents to join USDP following their child’s polio shot

Burma will suspend its new policy of issuing tourists visas on arrival until the elections

Communist Party calls for meeting with organizations to formulate a common agenda for the post-election period

New Mon State Party says the elections will not bring genuine democracy or build ethnic unity

Junta cautions New Mon State Party and KNU/KNLA Peace Council to join the Border Guard Force by 1 September or face attack

Junta sets new September deadline for United Wa State Army and National Democratic Alliance Army to join Border Guard Force

Second bomb blast in the past month in Three Pagodas Pass

Two labour activists, Myint Maung and Thura Aung, released from jail after winning appeal

New SPDC regulation promises to fire or blacklist factory workers for participating in labour rights protests

Red light district emerges in Naypyidaw, with over 100 establishments in one area

Regional

ASEAN Secretary-General reiterates hopes for free speech during elections

Japanese foreign minister expresses concerns about upcoming polls to SPDC’s ambassador to Japan

Thai-Burma border closure estimated to cost Thailand over $300 million and goes against the goal of greater economic integration in ASEAN

Two major Indonesian banks to open offices in Burma in hopes of improving bilateral trade relations

India accepts Burma’s denial of nuclear program but will continue to monitor the situation

China plans three oil product pipelines to receive crude oil from Burma

International

US and UK issue Burma travel warnings ahead of elections

London-based think tank Economist Intelligence Unit finds the junta’s objective “legitimizing the military’s hold on power” in the upcoming elections

UNDP watchdog warns that UN aid efforts in Burma are “unsatisfactory” and “with modest or limited impact”

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