May 15, 2008 / 12:10 PM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX - Why Myanmar's generals stand firm

(Reuters) - After 46 years of unbroken military rule, many people both inside and outside Myanmar think it will take an act of God to get rid of the junta.

Here are some reasons why analysts say the generals are resisting pressure to open up to foreign aid and workers after this month’s cyclone, and are unlikely to face serious unrest despite criticism over the handling of the disaster.


Those living in the heavily populated Irrawaddy delta, where millions had homes or crops destroyed, will be far too busy rebuilding their lives and homes to worry about rising up.

“People are absolutely preoccupied with survival — food, water, health, their relatives, getting their jobs back, rebuilding their houses,” former Australian ambassador to Yangon Trevor Wilson said.


Those elsewhere remember what happened when serious demonstrations erupted before, such as the bloody suppression of monk-led protests last September.

A Yangon taxi driver in Yangon put it succinctly. “There won’t be demonstrations ... People don’t want to be shot.”


The cyclone might even end up bolstering junta chief Than Shwe’s status because of his 2005 decision to move the capital to Naypyidaw, 400 kms (250 miles) north of Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon.

With Yangon strewn with rubble and fallen trees, the junta’s escape from the destruction is likely to confirm in its leaders’ minds that they have a near supernatural mandate and can ignore pressure from within and without.

“It is said that Than Shwe’s astrologer told him to move the capital because Rangoon would suffer a calamity,” Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to neighbouring Thailand, said.


The generals’ confidence was demonstrated after the cyclone when they ignored widespread calls to indefinitely postpone a planned referendum on a constitution the government calls a step to democracy but critics say will further cement their power.

The first round of a two-stage ballot was held on May 10 in all but the worst-hit areas.

The result, according to the government?

A 92.4 percent win for the charter, demonstrating either incredible popularity for the junta or, according to opposition National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win, a referendum “full of cheating and fraud across the country.”

Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Jerry Norton

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