Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Did Senior-General Than Shwe pick the wrong commander in chief?

Tuesday, 02 August 2011 16:59 Salai Z. T. Lian

(Commentary) – Senior-General Than Shwe named his trusted colleague Min Aung Hlaing as commander in chief on March 30. Inevitably, some people criticized the decision, saying General Min Aung Hlaing only received the name of commander in chief, when in fact Than Shwe remains the most powerful man in the Burmese military.

General Min Aung Hlaing. Photo: Shan
But there is a question over how long Than Shwe can continue commanding Gen Min Aung Hlaing now that he is the designated military commander in chief. After being appointed, no Burmese general has listened to their former boss for a very long time.

For example, Than Shwe used to obey the former ruler of Burma, General Ne Win, but after he consolidated his power, he no longer listened to him. He even put his former boss under house arrest.

It’s quite understandable that Than Shwe thought that he had made sure to give power to someone who would be loyal to him and who would listen to his directions. That’s why he picked Gen Min Aung Hlaing to take over—but who can predict whether what happened to Gen Ne Win will not happen to Than Shwe?

It is very common in the Burmese military that soldiers are extremely obedient to their masters. They fear their boss like God, but when they take their turn in power, they slowly turn their back on their former senior. So the question is, how long will Gen Min Aung Hlaing be loyal to his boss Than Shwe?

Than Shwe may think that Min Aung Hlaing will never turn his back on him, but look what happened to Gen Ne Win—Than Shwe put him under house arrest until he died on 5 December, 2002. Many would not be surprised if Gen Min Aung Hlaing turned his back on Than Shwe or arrested him. Of course, many Burmese people are familiar with such actions.

How will their relationship develop if the commander in chief develops real power?

Look at what Gen Min Aung Hlaing is doing right now. He seems to be trying to do the things differently, not like his boss Than Shwe. Perhaps he is intent on showing the Burmese military who is their boss. He has reshuffled regional commanders, and dismissed Maj-Gen Tun Than from the army on corruption charges, as well as summoning five military generals to Nyapyitaw to face a graft inquiry reportedly.

Gen Min Aung Hlaing understands there is rivalry within the army so he will try to gain full power to do his job and try to earn respect so that no one will dare to challenge him. After he reaches the top and Than Shwe can’t control him anymore, we will find out who Gen Min Aung Hlaing really is.

At some point, Than Shwe will ask himself whether he picked the right commander in chief. And at the same time, Gen Min Aung Hlaing may mull over his gratitude to Than Shwe for the senior-most post, wondering why he trusted him.

Such thoughts could prove incendiary between the two men.

Before long, Gen Min Aung Hlaing will be unwilling to play the role of baby, even though Than Shwe would like to keep him in the crib. At that point, we’ll have a clear picture as to whether Than Shwe picked the wrong commander in chief.

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