Myanmar Business Guide: The Government

An outline of the structure of Government of Myanmar

 

4.1 Official Name

Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw or Union of Myanmar.

4.2 Overview

Independence ushered in a democratic parliamentary form of government that remained in place for some fifteen years, however, the government was not stable enough to contain the disparate interests and the military stepped in. Once in place, the military established a government within a socialist framework but the collapse of this system eventually caused the military to rule by martial law. The military remains in control of politics simply because there are no competing interest groups that possess the ability to dislodge it and sustain an alternative political system. However, after years of control the Government has acknowledged some of its mistakes and understands that it must integrate itself into the world community. It initiated economic reforms in the early 1990’s and is gradually making concessions in the political arena.

4.3 The Government

Martial law was imposed on the country when the military, led by General Saw Maung, established SLORC on September 18, 1988 as a reaction to the frequent demonstrations that were being held at that time. Announcement 1/88 stated that the Defense Forces had assumed all power in the State while Announcement 2/88 abolished the People’s Assembly, the State Council, the Council of Ministers, the Council of People’s Justices and the People’s Councils at the state/divisional, township, and ward/village levels. Declaration 1/90 further defined SLORC’s authority as it stated that SLORC would govern by martial law and that it alone has the authority to exercise the legislative, executive and judicial authority of the state organs.

SLORC was formally dissolved on November 15, 1997 and replaced by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), on the same day, by order of Proclamation No. 1/97. The restructuring of the political system is intended to deal both with external as well as internal pressures facing the Government. The external pressure that has had an immediate impact comes from the countries that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN’s stature as a regional forum in the international context will place pressure for political change on Myanmar. Internally, the mis-management of the economy, that has led to its melt down, and complaints over corruption have been motivating change from within.

The new governing body is composed of a nineteen member Council and a Cabinet. The Cabinet, unlike its predecessor, retains only Senior General Than Shwe as a concurrent member of both bodies. Whilst many of the Cabinet Ministers are military, a good number of Deputy Ministers are civilians and have been drawn from the ranks of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (discussed further below). In addition, two new ministries covering military affairs and electric power have been incorporated into the Cabinet. The present composition of the governing body is as follows:

The State Peace and Development Council:

CHAIRMAN OF SPDC   —   SENIOR-GEN. THAN SHWE
VICE-CHAIRMAN OF SPDC   —   GEN. MAUNG AYE
SECRETARY (1) OF SPDC   —   LT. GEN. KHIN NYUNT
SECRETARY (2) OF SPDC   —   LT. GEN. TIN OO
SECRETARY (3) OF SPDC   —   LT. GEN. WIN MYINT
MEMBER - COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF (NAVY)   —   COMMODORE NYUNT THEIN
MEMBER - COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF (AIRFORCE)   —   BRIG.-GEN. KYAW THAN
MEMBER – COMMANDER – WESTERN COMAND   —   MAJ.-GEN. AUNG HTWE
MEMBER – COMMANDER – CENTRAL COMMAND   —   MAJ.-GEN. YE MYINT
MEMBER – COMMANDER – YANGON COMMAND   —   MAJ.-GEN. KHIN MAUNG THAN
MEMBER – COMMANDER – NORTHERN COMMAND   —   MAJ.-GEN. KYAW WIN
MEMBER – COMMANDER – TRIANGLE REGION COMMAND   —   MAJ.-GEN. THEIN SEIN
MEMBER – COMMANDER – COASTAL REGION COMAND   —   MAJ.-GEN. THURA THIHA THURA SIT MAUNG
MEMBER – COMMANDER – SOUTH-WEST COMMAND   —   BRIG.-GEN. THURA SHWE MANN
MEMBER – COMMANDER – SOUTH-EAST COMMAND   —   BRIG.-GEN. MYINT AUNG
MEMBER – COMMANDER – EASTERN COMMAND   —   BRIG.-GEN. MAUNG BO
MEMBER – COMMANDER – NORTH-EAST COMMAND   —   BRIG.-GEN. THIHA THURA TIN AUNG MYINT OO
MEMBER – COMMANDER – NORTH-WEST COMMAND   —   BRIG.-GEN. SOE WIN
MEMBER – COMMANDER – SOUTHERN COMMAND   —   BRIG.-GEN. TIN AYE

The State Peace and Development Council Cabinet:

PRIME MINISTER   —   SENIOR-GEN. THAN SHWE
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTERS   —   VICE-ADMIRAL MAUNG MAUNG KHIN, LT.-GEN. TIN TUN
OFFICE OF THE CHAIRMAN OF SPDC – MINISTERS   —   LT.-GEN. MIN THEIN, BRIG.-GEN. ABEL, BRIG.-GEN. MAUNG MAUNG
OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER – MINISTERS   —   BRIG.-GEN. LUN MAUNG, U THAN SHWE, MAJ.-GEN. TIN NGWE
AGRICULTURE & IRRIGATION   —   LT. GEN. NYUNT TIN
COMMERCE   —   MAJ.-GEN. KYAW THAN
COMMUNICATIONS, POST & TELEGRAPHS   —   BRIG.-GEN. WIN TIN
CONSTRUCTION   —   MAJ.-GEN. SAW TUN
COOPERATIVES   —   U AUNG SAN
CULTURE   —   U WIN SEIN
DEFENSE   —   SENIOR-GEN. THAN SHWE
EDUCATION   —   U THAN AUNG
ELECTRIC POWER   —   MAJ.-GEN. TIN HTUT
ENERGY   —   BRIG.-GEN. LUN THI
FINANCE & REVENUE   —   U KHIN MAUNG THEIN
FOREIGN AFFAIRS   —   U OHN GYAW
FORESTRY   —   U AUNG PHONE
HEALTH   —   MAJ.-GEN. KET SEIN
HOME AFFAIRS   —   COL. TIN HLAING
HOTELS & TOURISM   —   LT. GEN. SAW LWIN
IMMIGRATION & POPULATION   —   U SAW TUN
INDUSTRY 1   —   U AUNG THAUNG
INDUSTRY 2   —   MAJ.-GEN. HLA MYINT SWE
INFORMATION   —   MAJ.-GEN. KYI AUNG
LABOR   —   VICE-ADMIRAL TIN AYE
LIVESTOCK BREEDING & FISHERIES   —   BRIG.-GEN. MAUNG MAUNG THEIN
MILITARY AFFAIRS   —   LT.-GEN. TIN HLA
MINES   —   BRIG.-GEN. OHN MYINT
NATIONAL PLANNING & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT   —   U SOE THA
PROGRESS OF BORDER AREAS & NATIONAL RACES   —   COL. THEIN NYUNT
RAIL TRANSPORTATION   —   U PAN AUNG
RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS   —   LT. GEN. SEIN HTWA
SOCIAL WELFARE, RELIEF & RESETTLEMENT   —   BRIG.-GEN. PYI SONE
SPORTS   —   BRIG.-GEN. SEIN WIN
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY   —   U THAUNG
TRANSPORT   —   LT. GEN. TIN NGWE



Whilst many observers have dismissed the changes as being superficial there are some points worth noting. First, many of the new members of SPDC range between fifty and fifty-five years of age and come from a different generation than their predecessors. In essence the political shakeup represents a change of guard in political/military leadership. A second point to note is the elevation of the zone commanders into the SPDC. In some sense the dynamics of the military structure is beginning to shift from one which is highly centralized at the top to one that relies strongly on the patronage of the zone commanders. Much of the influence of the zone commanders lies in the military units directly under their command and also the fact that they are becoming increasingly active in the economic activities that take place within their geographical fiefdoms. Future leadership will be required to balance the interests of the competing centers of influence. Thus, while the political shakeup may not have an immediate impact on the Government’s policy it does mark a transition in leadership that will manifest itself once the senior military officials begin to fade from politics.

4.4 The Military

It was largely through the efforts of General Ne Win that the military was first able to gain a foothold and later consolidate its power within government. Tension between competing factions of the party that established Burma’s independence, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), forced U Nu, the acting head of government, to cede authority to General Ne Win for sixteen months beginning in 1958. General Ne Win accepted the results of a subsequent election despite the fact that the military backed party secured only a minority of seats. However, General Ne Win was to eventually lead a military coup d’ e tat on March 2, 1962, which placed the military firmly in control of government. The military established a socialist government and banned all political parties on March 28, 1964 except for the military sanctioned Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). General Ne Win was to first exert his authority through BSPP and later, after the demise of the socialist government, through SLORC and SPDC which he has been able to influence from behind the scenes.

In the present military command structure the Chairman of SPDC also serves as the Minister of Defense. Next in the chain of command are the commanders in chief of the Army, Navy and Airforce. The Army by far is the dominant service and receives a disproportionate allocation of funds and political patronage relative to the other two services. Since 1988 the strength of the military has increased from a force of 186,000 to 300,000. It is projected that this number should reach 500,000 by the year 2000. Recruitment of soldiers generally draws from ethnic Burmans however there are units composed of ethnic hill-tribes that are used to quell riots in urban centers. Since its inception, much of the efforts of the Army have been directed initially towards the communist insurgent groups and more recently against the ethnic groups. Whilst the threat of communism has disappeared there remain pockets of ethnic insurgents which the Army has attempted to bring within their control.

The Navy operates primarily as a fisheries protection and patrol fleet for the coastline and rivers of Myanmar. The ranks of the Navy have decreased from a high in the 1970’s of 9,000 to present day numbers estimated to be around 7,000. However the personnel strength has been increasing since the conflict in 1988 and it is believed that a target has been set at 12,000. The Navy is presently suffering from a low budget. Consequently, it has not managed to add significantly to its aging fleet the majority of which was acquired during the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, the Chinese government has sold vessels to the Government subsequent to the 1988 conflict and it is anticipated that they will contribute to the Navy’s capability.

The Airforce, similar to the Navy, has suffered from low budgetary appropriations. Personnel level is now estimated to be in the proximity of 9,000 and their main function is to serve as support to ground troops in its counter-insurgency operations with a secondary role as maritime surveillance and search and rescue. The airforce presently consists of two attack squadrons based in Meiktila operating twenty five antiquated planes, two attack squadrons based in Moulmein consisting of seventeen jets acquired subsequent to 1988 from China and Yugoslavia, four transport squadrons operating out of Mingaladon consisting of approximately thirty planes, two training squadrons of twenty-five planes and a squadron of approximately forty helicopters.

The Military Intelligence Service is a generic term for the various intelligence and security organizations in Myanmar. The primary security and intelligence organization in Myanmar is the National Intelligence Board (NIB) which determines policy and co-ordinates the various intelligence and security organizations. There are four agencies that participate in intelligence activities on a day to day level. The Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI) has the primary function of monitoring the different insurgent groups through at least twelve different military intelligence services. The Criminal Investigation Department targets criminal behavior and draws its personnel from the ranks of the People’s Police Force (PPF). The Special Investigation Department likewise draws from the PPF, however this organization is generally viewed as the organization that maintains intelligence on treason, subversion or anti-government activities in general. Finally, the Bureau of Special Investigation is responsible for corruption and economic crimes. The DDSI receives the lion’s share of appropriation for intelligence activities and it appears that the other intelligence organizations remain under its control.

The basic training program for officers of the three branches of service are conducted through the same institutions. The Defense Services Academy (DSA) was established in 1955 at Maymyo and is considered to be the West Point for officer training programs in Myanmar. The training program consists of a four-year program and upon completion of the program a degree is awarded. The Officer Training School (OTS) offers four-month training programs for university graduates and eighteen-month training programs for enlisted men. Upon entering any of the three services, graduates of DSA or OTS must undergo a compulsory training program specific to that service, lasting between three and nine months.

One organization which is not military in nature but under the military’s control is the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). In many respects the Government has looked toward Indonesia as a model for political reform. Similar to GOLKAR in Indonesia, the Government has created the USDA as its populist organization. It is headed by senior members of the military. Since September of 1993 the USDA has been mobilizing its political base by persuading people to join its ranks. It is considered to be a movement rather than a party. The importance of this distinction lies in the fact that government employees are not permitted to join political parties but are allowed to, and obliged to, join the USDA. The new constitution will provide the institutional mechanisms for the military to retain control of government however it will most likely be through the USDA that the military will develop populist based support to retain control over the government.

4.5 The Constitution

The military has promised to relinquish power once a new constitution is in place. To this end a National Convention has been formed to draft such a constitution. A draft constitution is currently being debated by a National Convention comprised of eight categories of people: peasants; workers; service personnel; intellectuals; professionals; ethnic groups; representatives elected in the May 1990 election; the ten remaining political parties who contested the 1990 elections; and "others who should be invited". While discussions have apparently been reasonably free in the smaller working groups on different topics there appears to be no scope for discussion in the plenary sessions. Initially it was thought the constitution would be decided on a consensus basis but it seems that a majority vote mechanism has been adopted leading to military preferences winning the day. The NLD had earlier removed itself from participation in the National Convention, however it passed a resolution to rejoin the National Convention in May of 1997.

Imbedded in the proposed constitution are certain provisions that require spouses of candidates to be native born Burmese citizens. This may effectively prohibit the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi if such provisions are passed. Moreover, the military is attempting to reserve 25% of the seats and the presidency for itself. However, the National Convention has incorporated one new provision that will benefit a portion of the ethnic groups: “self-administered zones” will be created for the Naga in the Sagaing Division, the Pao, Palaung, Kokang, Danu in the Shan State and also a “self-administered area” for the Wa who had previously received no political recognition.

4.6 Summary

Any long-term political solution will have to take into consideration two important issues. First, there will have to be some framework that will permit a gradual process of democratization of institutions in Myanmar. The military is too firmly entrenched in government and their capacity to maintain this position, by virtue of the growth in their numbers, is increasing rather than decreasing. Moreover, the majority of the population in Myanmar does not appear to be inclined toward violent change. Accordingly, the pace of change will be gradual and the constitution will have to be flexible enough to accommodate the changes that will occur and provide for the gradual dissemination of power. Second, a delicate balance between a federal authority and state autonomy will have to be reached in order to permit the various ethnic groups to preserve their cultural practices and lifestyle. The military appears to be willing to accommodate changes and evolution towards a democratic system is inevitable though at issue is the pace and character of change.