Reforms in Myanmar: 4 reasons the military changed course

For more than half a century, Myanmar’s military governments were synonymous with brutality and corruption. Accused of savagery in their prosecution of civil wars with rebellious ethnic minorities, drug running, forced labor on a massive scale, and other human rights violations, successive generals brought the country, once one of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous nations, to economic ruin.

A year ago the military stepped aside, handing power to a nominally civilian government made up largely of former generals that have instituted political reforms, signed ceasefires with most of the ethnic minorities, and promised economic modernization. Here are four reasons why the military changed its course:

Leaders protecting themselves

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters/File
Myanmar's Gen. Than Shwe attends the Armed Forces Day parade in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw on March 27, 2010.

Gen. Than Shwe, the man who ran Myanmar (Burma) until last year, may have had his eye on history when he handed over power. Traditionally, Myanmar's military dictators who handed over power to the successive dictator have soon found themselves in jail or under house arrest and their relatives stripped of the wealth they had accumulated.
By paving the way to a nominally civilian government, Than Shwe made sure that power is no longer wielded by one man who would be strong enough to turn on him. Instead, power in Myanmar today is diffused among the military, different factions of the government, and an increasingly active and demanding parliament.

Than Shwe is now quietly in the background, presumably enjoying the material fruits he gathered while he ran Burma and decided who should be granted lucrative business deals in the resource-rich country.

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