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Post-1988 Civil-Military Relations in Myanmar

Discussion Papers


by NAKANISHI Yoshihiro
January 2013


This paper explores the development of civil–military relations in Myanmar since 1988. After the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) took over the state by means of a coup d’état in 1988, the top generals ruled the country without recourse to significant formal political institutions such as a constitution, elections and parliament. A unique authoritarian regime, where political power was predominantly under the military’s influence, lasted for more than 20 years in the country. It seemed to many observers that the military regime was highly durable and that its dictator, General Than Shwe, had no intention of altering the highly repressive character of the political system. However, a new leader, President Thein Sein, who came to power in March 2011, has decided to implement some political and economic reforms that could undermine the Tatmadaw’s dominant role in politics and the economy. This paper examines the background to this sudden political change in Myanmar, focusing on the relationship between its dictator, the military and the state. This paper’s main argument is that Than Shwe has carefully prepared the transition of 2011 as a generational change in the Tatmadaw and in state leadership. The argument is also made that the challenges created by Thein Sein can be understood as a result of his redefinition of national security and balancing of security-centralism with state-led developmentalism.

Keywords: Myanmar, Burma, Civil-Military Relations, Military Regime, Than Shwe, Thein Sein

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