Military-linked tycoons claim political middle ground

Despite decades of benefiting from connections within the military and ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), many of Myanmar’s leading conglomerates have claimed to be politically neutral.


Spokespeople for some of the country’s most successful companies including Asia World, Htoo Group, Kanbawza (KBZ) Group and Max Myanmar said as private businesses they had no political alliances.

U Nyo Myint, senior managing director at KBZ Group, said his company had made no donations to political parties.

“We do not engage in any politics and we actively give all our employees and their families the freedom of choice in this upcoming election,” he said. The company has interests in aviation, banking, mining and real estate, and received lucrative contracts under the current and former administrations.

A spokesperson for Capital Diamond Star Group said the company – which is led by high-profile businessperson U Ko Kyo Gyi – did not pick a side in yesterday’s vote or offer political contributions.

“Though it is possible the boss personally donates,” he added.

U Khin Shwe, chair of one of the country’s most controversial military-linked conglomerates Zaykabar Company, ran for re-election as the USDP candidate for Yangon Region constituency No 8 yesterday.

His son U Zay Thiha said despite his father’s political ambitions, the company does not support a particular party.

“Personally I support [independent candidate] Daw Nyo Nyo Thein who [was running] in Bahan township,” he said.

Yoma Strategic, one of the few major conglomerates in Myanmar to have avoided being blacklisted by the United States, also claims neutrality.

“We have not made any donations to any parties as our policy has always been not to affiliate with any political parties or movements,” said Cyrus Pun, son of chair Serge Pun and head of the company’s real estate division.

Asia World Company is also politically neutral, according to a spokesperson, who declined to comment further.

In a show of transparency, Htoo Group was among the few to admit to being a donor.

“Our chair [U Tay Za] and Htoo Foundation donated and support a lot to parties such as USDP and NLD [opposition National League for Democracy] for national development and educational purposes,” a spokesperson said in an email.

He planned to “collect detailed data” and compile a list of companies under the Htoo Group umbrella, with details of what they had donated, but did not finally send the list, saying he had to go on an urgent trip.

U Zaw Zaw, chair of Max Myanmar has made “large donations to the [NLD]” according to a recent article by AFP, and he has reportedly also donated to the USDP, though a company spokesperson was unable to confirm this.

A source at one of the companies said many senior employees planned to vote for the NLD.

If the election result is accepted by the international community – “in other words an NLD win” – it will offer powerful businesses the best chance of freedom from remaining US sanctions, he said.


Source: Myanmar Times

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