Burma's Saddam: General Than Shwe

Nyo Ohn Myint

Aug 7, 2008 (DVB), In the twenty years of iron rule of Burma since 1988, conventional methods of developing democracy have not brought results.

Countries that are strong supporters of Burma are growing tired of considering what strategies should be used. Urging compromise and asking the generals to deal with opposition groups are fanciful ideas. In fact, forcing the generals to review their role in supporting Burma's absolute power holder senior general Than Shwe might offer a solution.

According to information leaked from inside sources, officials within the State Peace and Development Council are considering a future political landscape for Burma: a Burma without senior general Than Shwe. For many reasons, the regime is developing a political scenario which excludes Than Shwe after the 2010 election.

Currently, the senior general undeniably dictates the SPDC's future. Disturbingly, Than Shwe's tyrannical rule over Burma resembles the late Saddam Hussein's despotic rule over Iraq. While Saddam's practices of killing and torture were more visible and shocking to the international community, Than Shwe has used marginally more civilized methods when the eyes of the international community are upon him. But beyond the reach of the media and witnesses, both can be equally blamed.

Than Shwe not only eliminates his opponents, but also eradicates colleagues and subordinates who express an alternative view. Within the SPDC, two major purges occurred when Than Shwe disagreed with and felt threatened by other senior officials. First, the brigadier general Zaw Htun's recommendation for an alternative economic strategy resulted in his retirement and disappearance from the SPDC lineup. Second, former prime minister Khin Nyunt was sentenced to over forty years of imprisonment for working in his own style. In addition to incarcerating Khin Nyunt, Than Shwe had many of Khin Nyunt's subordinates physically tortured, some of whom were tortured to death. These harsh punishments gave Than Shwe even more power.

Similarly, during Saddam's rule, Saddam asked his cabinet for candid advice. After health minister Ibrahim suggested that Saddam temporarily step down to allow for peace negotiations during the 1980-84 Iran-Iraq war, pieces of Ibrahim's dismembered body were delivered to his wife the next day. Although Than Shwe did not kill his senior ministers in the same way, in the example of brigadier general Zaw Htun, Than Shwe severely punished Zaw Htun as well as the entire military intelligence division.

As a Burma watcher explained when comparing Than Shwe to Saddam, "both men refused to compromise and maintained power through reward and punishment. The primary objective of both dictators was to maintain his interests and dominance." This reward and punishment system has caused administrators in both countries to fear the dictator's harsh punishment and thus provide false information when competing for their leader's approval.

Saddam's cabinet members and aides competed for Saddam's approval in their genocide; they competed for who could kill more people, who could perform the most gruesome torture and so on.

Similarly in Burma, the regional commanders, who are also military council members, compete for Than Shwe's approval. For example, commanders competed during the referendum for the most votes in favour of the SPDC constitution. The area commanders who presented less than 90 percent Yes votes in their results were forced to retire or transferred to inactive positions, said sources.

The recent referendum results demonstrate that Than Shwe's subordinates work to please their dictatorial leader. Certainly, Than Shwe enjoys the pro-SPDC, pro-Than Shwe results that his subordinates falsely provide. However, while the junta's mouthpiece media attempts to please Than Shwe by showcasing Burma's new roads and bridges and the country's "prosperity", Than Shwe may not realise that it was this kind of misinformation and false representation of reality that resulted in the demise of Saddam's regime.

Even if both leaders claim to love their countries, they indisputably love themselves and their power more. According to one Burma watcher, "Burma's authorities now primarily work to attain the senior general's approval in order to avoid harsh punishment. As long as the senior general continues to use Saddam's tactics, the other generals within the SPDC will fear opposing him."

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