May 8, 2008 / 1:03 PM / 11 years ago

ANALYSIS-Cyclone unlikely to spell disaster for Myanmar junta

By Ed Cropley

BANGKOK, May 8 (Reuters) - After 46 years of unbroken military rule, many people both inside and outside Myanmar think it will take an act of God to get rid of the generals.

Inevitably, the former Burma’s frustrated exile community are seeing the catastrophic destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis as just such an event, hoping the economic fallout and misery will spark either a popular uprising or split within the military.

Neither is likely, analysts say.

Many of Myanmar’s deeply superstitious 53 million people are likely to blame the storm on "bad karma" from the despotism of junta supremo Than Shwe, Burmese and European analysts said on Thursday.

But those living in the heavily populated Irrawaddy delta will be far too busy in the months ahead rebuilding their lives and homes to worry about rising up.

"People are absolutely preoccupied with survival — food, water, health, their relatives, getting their jobs back, rebuilding their houses," former Australian ambassador to Yangon Trevor Wilson said.

"Politics is the last thing on their minds at the moment."

With the memories of the bloody suppression of last Septembers’ monk-led protests still fresh in people’s minds, one taxi driver put it even more succinctly.

"There won’t be demonstrations," he told a Reuters reporter in Yangon, or Rangoon as it used to be called.

"People don’t want to be shot."

LUCKY STARS?

Ironically, the cyclone — Asia’s worst since 143,000 people were killed in Bangladesh in 1991 — might even end up bolstering Than Shwe’s status because of his decision to move the capital to Naypyidaw, 400 kms (250 miles) north of Yangon, in 2005.

At the time everybody thought he was mad, but with 100,000 people feared dead in the Irrawaddy delta, and Yangon strewn with rubble and fallen trees, some might say it was either a very lucky, or very prescient, move.

Whatever the reason, the junta’s escape from much of the destruction is only likely to confirm in the minds of its leaders that they have an almost supernatural mandate to continue to run the country.

"It is said that Than Shwe’s astrologer told him to move the capital because Rangoon would suffer a calamity," said Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to neighbouring Thailand.

"So his karma has been saved and it is the people who have suffered, not the generals," he said.

Others agreed, especially given the junta’s own relentless propaganda about the need for a strong armed forces to keep the country together and on an even keel.

"They might all conclude that it was because of his leadership the government was no longer in Yangon and in the path of the cyclone," British academic Robert Taylor said.

"As a command and control centre away from the zone of destruction, it was capable of continuing to operate while the rest of southern Myanmar suffered," he said.

If the regime manages to overcome its innate distrust of the outside world and throw open its doors to an international humanitarian mission, including military flights from arch enemy the United States, it might even win some popularity. And however callous it might seem, the junta’s decision to proceed on Saturday with a constitutional referendum — part of its seven-step "roadmap to democracy" — in all but the worst-hit areas, does not smack of a government worried about its future. (Editing by Bill Tarrant)



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