August 4, 2023

Junta Watch: Blackouts Eclipse Electricity Minister; Regime Boss Shamed by Sermon; and More

The Irrawaddy

Another power minister unplugged

Among regime ministerial posts, the head of the country’s electricity ministry seems especially vulnerable to being fired. Thaung Han became the latest example Wednesday when he was forced to retire “on health grounds” after more than one year in the job. His predecessor, Aung Than Oo, had suffered the same fate. It means the ministry is already on its third minister in less than two and a half years, following the military’s power grab in 2021.

The junta doesn’t offer reasons for the forced retirements. However, both electricity ministers presided over continual rolling blackouts that have plagued the country since the coup. To Min Aung Hlaing’s embarrassment, major cities like Yangon have only a few hours of electricity per day even during the ongoing monsoon season, when the country’s hydropower turbines should be at full capacity. Even the regime’s administrative seat of Naypyitaw isn’t spared the power cuts.

It is now clear that Min Aung Hlaing’s coup shattered the country’s electrification plan being carried out by the National League for Democracy government, which was ousted in the takeover. Under the plan, the country had achieved 50 percent electrification by December 2019 and was on target for 75 percent in 2025 and full electrification in 2030.

Meanwhile, the regime’s plan to generate electricity from alternative sources like solar and wind with help from China and Russia has so far failed to bear fruit, as nationwide blackouts persist. So, Min Aung Hlaing has simply vented his anger on his electricity ministers. His next victim in line is the freshly appointed Nyan Tun. With Myanmar still under the cloak of rolling blackouts, keep your fingers crossed, minister!

Buddhist humiliation for regime boss

For junta chief Min Aung Hlaing – who is universally known for bombing his own civilians – being told to do no evil is probably the last thing he wants to hear. But hear it he did. To his embarrassment, he was lectured face to face in public. Worse, the encounter was broadcast live on state-owned TV channels.

On Tuesday, the regime chief was visibly in high spirits as more than 900 Buddhist monks flocked into Naypyitaw to consecrate his seated Buddha statue that he boasts is ‘the world’s biggest’. But his elation was swiftly punctured when a senior monk from the country’s governing religious body gave a sermon to the audience, which included Min Aung Hlaing.

Venerable Sandana Thara of Kyaukme from northern Shan State summarized the essence of Buddhism in three short sentences in Burmese, Pali and English: “Do no sin or evil. Do good. And purify your mind.”

Coincidently, the monk raised his three fingers to emphasize the statements. The gesture was the same as the three-finger salute popularized by protesters during nationwide demonstrations against military rule.

How Min Aung Hlaing reacted to the sermon was not immediately clear. Although he was on camera at the time, there were no close-ups of his face. But the sermon’s message was clear to everyone: ordering arbitrary military attacks that kill civilians in their thousands violates fundamental precepts of the Buddha’s teaching.

The fate of senior monk following his daring sermon is not yet known. But later that same day, Min Aung Hlaing sacked his Minister of Religion and Culture, Ko Ko, who was responsible for overseeing the country’s religious affairs – including Buddhist monks. ‘Health reasons’ were given as the excuse for the removal of Ko Ko and other ministers this week.

Regime seeks friends in Mideast, Africa

The junta is seeking to establish ties with countries in the Middle East and Africa in a bid to expand its international relations beyond China, Russia and India.

On July 31, the regime agreed to the proposed appointment of Malaysia-based Florence Buerki Akonor as Ghana’s Ambassador Extraordinary to Myanmar.

In March, the regime established diplomatic relations with Africa’s Guinea-Bissau, which became the 126th country to establish official ties with Myanmar. The joint communiqué on forging diplomatic relations was signed at the Myanmar Embassy in Beijing.

As sanctions imposed by Western powers heighten Myanmar’s isolation on the world stage, Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has been busy cementing ties with countries in Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Dubai, Oman and Bahrain. And its focus is now expanding to Africa.

So far, though, Myanmar has embassies in just five Middle Eastern and African countries – Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Boss again vows to bring control as emergency extended

Min Aung Hlaing said further measures were needed to fight ‘terrorism’ in the country, and reiterated his plan to hold an election.

Military rule prolonged for another 6 months

Min Aung Hlaing defies constitution to prolong military rule for the fourth time since 2021 coup, as his regime struggles to quell popular armed resistance.

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