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Than Shwe’s Resignation and the Relocation of the Capital-Visit to Myanmar (5)- [2012/01/20]
2012012001.jpg

General Than Shwe, dressed in a traditional ethnic costume, with Sasakawa Yōhei.


Than Shwe’s Resignation and the Relocation of the Capital
Visit to Myanmar (5)


Some have claimed that the capital of Myanmar was moved from Yangon to Nay Pyi Daw, in the jungle, as a result of advice a fortune-teller gave to Than Shwe, the senior general of the junta. The real story is somewhat different, however.

Nay Pyi Daw is located near Pyinmana, which was home to the struggle to oppose British colonial rule. It was also the birthplace of the army. The new city is surrounded by mountains and far from the ocean. The decision to relocate was based on strategic considerations of security and a desire to close the books on Yangon, the capital under British rule, and open a new page in the country’s history.

2012012002.jpg

Nay Pyi Daw, the new capital, was built on cleared jungle land.


Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and it is not uncommon for political leaders to seek the counsel of monks who have undergone severe ascetic training. When Than Shwe made Nay Pyi Daw the capital, it was not in blind adherence to the advice of a Buddhist monk or fortune-teller, however. He gave a detailed explanation of why a new capital needed to be built and went ahead with the plans after obtaining the consent of the monk he consulted with.

Than Shwe’s resignation is, however, remarkable. The silence of the media on the resignation of a man who was denigrated by the West for years as the dictator at the helm of a military government is hard to understand. Is it prudence on their part? Or could it be they assume Than Shwe continues to wield behind-the-scenes power, with President Thein Sein as a mere puppet? Yangon pundits for their part assert Than Shwe’s resignation is indisputable and that the reason he has not appeared in public is because he is now wheelchair bound or has entered a Buddhist monastery. The truth of the matter is we simply don’t know. Than Shwe has not made a single public appearance since the constitution was amended and national elections were held.

In April 2003, former Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori joined my talks with Than Shwe aimed at rebuilding bilateral ties. Meetings of this sort generally last 30 or 40 minutes, but ours was followed by a dinner party and continued for three and a half hours. Though neither of us brought up the topic of military rule and the democratic transfer of power, Than Shwe nonetheless commented: “I personally do not think military rule is good. However, there are still a large number of armed insurgencies by ethnic minorities in remote regions, and until the situation is stabilized, military rule must be maintained. If it isn’t, Myanmar will be another Balkan Peninsula.” His remark gave me faint hope that Myanmar would set down the road to democracy once domestic stability was achieved. As it turned out, however, a different diplomatic path was chosen, with the enlightened politician Khin Nyunt ousted from his office as prime minister and bilateral ties with China strengthened in the aim of receiving more aid.

Than Shwe endured the harsh criticism from the West while undertaking preparations for a transition to democracy, which included revising the constitution, holding national elections, and laying the groundwork for the introduction of democratic policies. He also, of his own accord, put an end to military rule. The fact that Than Shwe has not been evaluated in an impartial manner seems to suggest that people these days have very short memories.

It is almost unheard of for a dictator to willingly step down. But Than Shwe did just that, against the predictions of the Western media. I, for one, feel that in the case of his rule the merits balanced out the demerits, and that he should be given credit for what he accomplished.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
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