Ex-dictator 'sees Suu Kyi as leader'

An undated photograph splashed across the front page of the state-run New Light of Myanmar showing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi with General Than Shwe. The last time she met the general was in 2003.
An undated photograph splashed across the front page of the state-run New Light of Myanmar showing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi with General Than Shwe. The last time she met the general was in 2003.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

General Than Shwe has also pledged to support her, says his grandson

YANGON • Myanmar's former dictator sees erstwhile foe Aung San Suu Kyi as the country's "future leader" and has pledged to support her even though she is barred by the Constitution from becoming president, his grandson has said.

General Than Shwe, who headed a military junta until he stepped down in 2011 and who many believe remains powerful, made the remarks during secret talks with the democracy icon last Friday, said his grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung, in a statement on Facebook late on Saturday.

"Everyone has to accept the truth that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be the future leader of Myanmar after winning the elections," Gen Than Shwe was quoted as saying by his grandson at the meeting with Ms Suu Kyi.

Daw is a term of respect.

FOR MYANMAR'S GOOD

I will support her earnestly as much as I can if she really works for the development of the country.

GENERAL THAN SHWE, on Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a Facebook post put up by the former dictator's grandson

"I will support her earnestly as much as I can if she really works for the development of the country," he added, according to the post.

The former strongman's grandson said he had acted as an intermediary for the talks.

It was unclear whether Gen Than Shwe's comments were a call for the Constitution, drafted by his junta in 2008, to be changed to allow the Nobel peace laureate to become president.

She is barred from the highest office because of her sons' foreign citizenship. Attempts by her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to amend the relevant article in the Constitution have been rebuffed and its landslide election win last month does not guarantee it control of Parliament.

Gen Than Shwe has no official role. But though he has been out of the public eye since 2011, many in Myanmar are convinced he remains politically involved.

Mr Win Myint, a spokesman for the NLD, confirmed the Friday meeting, adding it was the first time the two had met since 2003.

NLD lawmaker Win Htein said that Ms Suu Kyi met Gen Than Shwe because of "her belief in his influence on the government and the Tatmadaw (military)".

Gen Than Shwe kept Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of his 19 years in power and was considered by the West as a dictator who crushed dissent, enriched his cronies and kept his people poor.

He has not been seen in public since transferring power in 2011 to a reformist, quasi-civilian government run by his loyalists.

Accompanying the grandson's Facebook post was an image of a banknote signed by Gen Than Shwe, President Thein Sein and Ms Suu Kyi, referring to them each as Myanmar leaders.

"The significance of this note is... they signed only before they became the head of the country or while they were head of the country," the post said.

The NLD's Nov 8 heavy defeat of the ruling party formed by Gen Than Shwe has been interpreted as both a public mandate for Ms Suu Kyi and a protest vote against the military's political clout.

Ms Suu Kyi is seeking to smooth the NLD's path to office by cultivating good ties with a military her party once reviled but must now work with in a power-sharing government. The Constitution guarantees the armed forces executive and legislative representation.

She held talks last Wednesday with Mr Thein Sein, a former junta general, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief and Gen Than Shwe's protege.

Gen Than Shwe is known for being enigmatic, cryptic and calculated and has never explained his motives, or taken credit, for ceding power to reformist right-hand men who ushered in a wave of political and economic liberalisation.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Ex-dictator 'sees Suu Kyi as leader''. Print Edition | Subscribe