Published: Thursday, May 15, 2008
Burma's secretive military junta is the inheritor of rule by the armed forces, which has predominated since 1962 when General Ne Win led a coup d'etat. He was replaced by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1989, SLORC declared martial law but allowed free elections in 1990 for the first time in almost 30 years. It reverted quickly to type, annulling the results that would have brought the National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi to power. In 1992 SLORC was replaced by the State Peace and Development Council in which three men wield almost absolute power.
Senior General Than Shwe, 73
Junta head. Career military man who controls the army. Most hardline leader, strongly opposed to allowing any role for Aung San Suu Kyi. Rumours of his ill health are common and were fuelled last year when he spent two weeks in hospital in Singapore. Although he was supposed to retire at 60, he simply changed the rules and is now expected to rule for life. He was embarrassed when video of his daugher's lavish wedding was leaked to the media. The footage outrage Burmese as it showed the bride dripping with diamonds and pouring champagne beside an ornate gold bridal bed. The day after the cyclone hit, the street in Rangoon on which his wife was staying was cleared of debris and electricity restored. Than Shwe is said to be superstitious and regularly consults astrologers. The capital was moved without warning from Rangoon to Naypyidaw on Nov. 6, 2005, at the astrologically auspicious time of 6:37 a. m.
Vice Senior General Maung Aye, 70
Another career soldier and the second most powerful man in Burma. Believed to have strong ties with drug lords in the Golden Triangle, which led to clashes with then prime minister Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, who was concerned about the rise of ethnic armies outside the junta's control (Nyunt lost his job). He is reported to be a hard drinker.
General Thein Sein
Replaced Lieutenant General Soe Win (who died in November of leukemia at age 58) as prime minister. Soe Win was a close association of Than Shwe who helped crush the democracy party in 1988 after its elections victory. Represents the country on rare trips abroad, usually to neighbouring countries.