March 29, The Age: Democracy fails to reign in Burma
The secretive military dictatorship in Burma has unveiled its new capital with an unprecedented show of force.
About 12,000 troops in six columns took an hour to assemble in a huge concrete plaza in Pyinmana, 320 kilometres north of Rangoon, to mark the Armed Forces Day holiday. It was the biggest military parade in the country’s history.
The authorities transferred the capital there last year, with convoys of civil servants leaving Rangoon at precisely 6.37am on November 6. The move, which astonished observers, has been attributed to motives ranging from paranoia over invasion to astrological predictions.
As the soldiers marched on to the parade ground from an eight-lane highway – one of the few finished roads in the jungle capital – women put garlands around their necks.
In a televised address, the junta’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe, said Burma needed strong armed forces as it moved towards what he called “disciplined democracy”.
The country has been under military rule since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel peace laureate, won a landslide election victory in 1990 but has never been allowed to take power.
Pyinmana has been renamed Naypyidaw Myodaw, or “Royal Capital”, although the country has no king and many buildings remain shells lining dirt roads.
The move – and the accompanying influx of construction workers and officials – has created an economic boom for shops and massage parlours, but civil servants are deeply unhappy.
Most have been unable to bring their families with them; it is said that some have to sleep on their desks, and many have lost the second incomes they earned with private businesses in Rangoon.
The Government has announced a 1000 per cent pay rise for senior bureaucrats and 500 per cent for lower ranks. Although the figures sound enormous, they mean that top officials will now be paid about $A250 a month.