Ne Win


Ne Win
   (Shu Maung, 1911-2002)
   Wartime comrade of Aung San, commander in chief of Burma's armed forces from 1949 to 1972, and the country's leader during the Caretaker Government period (1958-1960) and the 26-year-long Burma Socialist Programme Party era (1962-1988). Born on March 14, 1911, in Paungdale, near Prome (Pyay) in what is now Pegu (Bago) Division, Shu Maung was of mixed Chinese-Burmese ancestry. Dropping out of Rangoon (Yangon) University in 1931, he joined the Dobama Asiayone and was a member of its right-wing faction, led by Ba Sein and Tun Oke. Recruited as one of the Thirty Comrades by Aung San, the Minami Kikan placed him in command of a unit of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) responsible for sabotage behind enemy lines. Following the establishment of the BIA in December 1941, he adopted the nom de guerre Ne Win, meaning "the brightness of sun." When Japan granted Burma nominal independence in August 1943, he was appointed commander in chief of the Burma National Army and joined Defense Minister Aung San in resisting the Japanese after March 27, 1945.
   Ne Win succeeded General Smith Dun as commander in chief of independent Burma's armed forces following the Karen National Union uprising in January 1949. Between 1949 and 1950, the rump of the Tatmadaw that he commanded, which remained loyal to the central government, proved indispensable in preventing the overthrow of Prime Minister U Nu's government by ethnic minority and communist insurgents. Ne Win solidified his control over the Tatmadaw by forging close ties with subordinate officers and presided over the "Burmanization" of its top ranks. He placed loyal subordinates from his old regiment, the Fourth Burma Rifles, in positions of special responsibility. When the ruling united front, the AntiFascist People's Freedom League, split into two factions in 1958, parliament passed legislation enabling Ne Win to assume the prime ministership as head of the Caretaker Government, which remained in power from October 1958 to April 1960. This period proved to be a dress rehearsal for the military regime he established on March 2, 1962, overthrowing U Nu and establishing the Revolutionary Council with himself as chairman, a post he held until the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was established in 1974 and he became its president.
   In July 1962, Ne Win established the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which became the country's only legal party in 1964. He implemented Eastern European-style socialist policies (the "Burmese Road to Socialism") and made military officers responsible for public administration and economic management. He is largely blamed for presiding over Burma's decline from being one of Southeast Asia's richest and most promising economies to being one of its poorest, and for having isolated the country culturally as well as economically from the international community. He resigned as president of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma in 1981 but remained chairman of the BSPP until retiring from that post on July 23, 1988.
   Though an adherent of non-Marxist socialism and advocate of the separation of religion and the state like Aung San, Ne Win's ruling style, dictatorial and personal in the classical Southeast Asian sense, belied his ambition to establish a modern "socialist democracy." Known by his people as "The Old Man" or "Number One," he often adopted the trappings of old Burman kings; regarded the nation's natural resources, especially gemstones, as his private property; and terrorized his subordinates with a violent temper. He was addicted to numerology and yedaya (occult practices), and had a scandalous private life. His style of diplomacy was largely based on personal ties rather than a coherent foreign policy, and he enjoyed close and mutually profitable relations with officials and private citizens in Japan, West Germany, and other countries. He ruthlessly suppressed all forms of dissent, especially students and ethnic minorities, and his Military Intelligence service, headed after 1983 by Khin Nyunt, kept a close eye on the population.
   After his 1988 retirement, there was speculation that he continued to manipulate politics from behind the scenes. Although this might have been true in the initial years of the State Law and Order Restoration Council junta, by the mid-1990s, he largely devoted himself to meditation and other religious practices, holding a Buddhist ceremony with old BSPP comrades in attendance on his 90th birthday in 1999. The alleged involvement of his daughter Sanda Win, his son-in-law, and three grandsons in a coup d'état attempt, uncovered in March 2002, marked the eclipse of his prestige. When he died on December 5, 2002, there was no state funeral, and his passing was only briefly mentioned in the state-run media.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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