State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Internal Dynamics


State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Internal Dynamics
   Because of the secrecy of its operations and tight state control of sensitive information, knowledge of the internal political dynamics of the military SPDC junta is limited, though rumors abound. Before the purge of Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt in October 2004, he and SPDC Vice Chairman Maung Aye differed on a number of important policy issues and had their own supporters within the Tatmadaw; Khin Nyunt's power base was within Military Intelligence, while Maung Aye's was within the ranks of the regular army. The former supported limited economic opening to the outside world, close relations with the People's Republic of China, and development of the border areas where minority nationality armed groups have signed cease-fires with the central government. Maung Aye was more conservative in economic policy, suspicious of outside influences, and advocated a hard line toward the minorities. Both opposed political liberalization, but while Maung Aye and his supporters have advocated harsh treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, Secretary-1 was believed to have favored a more subtle and manipulative approach, to divide the opposition. Few observers believed that differences between the two leaders would result in a split in the Tatmadaw.
   Traditional Burmese political culture tends to favor strong, personal leaders, such as Ne Win. The post-Ne Win era, under both the SPDC and the previous State Law and Order Restoration Council, has been a transition period in which "collegial dictatorship" has resulted in policy paralysis and indecisiveness on such issues as economic reform. At the beginning of the 21st century, SPDC Chairman Senior General Than Shwe has emerged as Ne Win's successor as a "one man" leader, while Khin Nyunt has been purged and Maung Aye has apparently lost power. Than Shwe's worldview is deeply conservative and isolationist, and it is unlikely that he would undertake needed reforms of the political economy. Moreover, he is personally antagonistic to Daw Suu Kyi and may have had a hand in the "Black Friday" Incident of May 30, 2003, which was instigated by members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), of which he is the patron. In August 2003, Than Shwe relieved the "moderate" Khin Nyunt of his post as SPDC Secretary-1, appointing him prime minister. This was seen by most Burma watchers as a demotion. Khin Nyunt's arrest and dismissal as prime minister 14 months later confimed his waning power, rather than representing a sudden, fundamental change in SPDC factional dynamics.
   With most of Khin Nyunt's Military Intelligence subordinates forcibly retired or arrested, it seemed that Than Shwe had further consolidated his power, and that his most loyal subordinates, Prime Minister Soe Win and General Thura Shwe Mann, are also in the ascendant. With a single line of authority running from Than Shwe through his subordinates to the rank and file below, the period of SPDC transition and "collegial dictatorship" may be over.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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