NGAPUTAW, Myanmar — Myanmar President Thein Sein’s elder brother confided in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that he hopes the president won’t stand in the next election out of concern for his health.
Tun Myint, the 75-year-old brother of President Thein Sein, also said during the interview at his home in Ngaputaw in western Myanmar that the Buddhist president has little time left to engage in religious activities considering his age.
The next president of Myanmar will be elected by parliament following a general election slated for later this year. While President Thein Sein hasn’t clarified his intentions about the election, the country’s business circles and other segments of society are earnestly calling for his reappointment to maintain government stability.
Apart from the president’s three daughters, Tun Myint is his only living kin. It is the first time that he has accepted an interview by a foreign media organization. Intelligence officers from the Myanmar military and home affairs ministry were also present during his interview with the Mainichi.
Tun Myint, who is five years Thein Sein’s senior, said the president joined the Defence Services Academy at age 18 and spent many of his younger days in battle. Tun Myint cares for the president’s health, saying he should be worn out after all those years spent in the jungle, subsisting on leaves and roots, and fighting a bout of malaria. He also wore a pacemaker from the time he was a lieutenant-general due to heart disease.
Born to a poor family in a small village on the Ayeyawady River delta, the brothers spent their early years surrounded by jungle that is home to wild elephants even today. A deeply religious family, their father became a monk after his wife died. Following in the footsteps of their father, Tun Myint says he and the president believe that striving hard in the present life will lead to a good next life.
Tun Myint is hoping that his younger brother will spend the rest of his life on religious activities, committing much of his time to meditation and philanthropy. As roughly 90 percent of citizens in Myanmar are Theravada Buddhists, many put a lot of emphasis on spending their post-retirement years doing religious or charitable work, whether or not they are politicians.
Thein Sein was Myanmar’s fourth-highest ranking general when he was prime minister toward the end of military rule in the country. In 2011, he became the first president of Myanmar after the country shifted to civilian rule. He overtook Thura Shwe Mann, who was the third-highest ranking general and the prime presidential candidate. Thura Shwe Mann currently serves as speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house of the Myanmar parliament. It is believed that Than Shwe, former “senior general” and ruler of the country, apparently chose Thein Sein as his successor out of consideration for his own safety after retiring from politics.
Recalling their childhood, Tun Myint described Thein Sein as the type of person who could always control himself. Tun Myint attributed his brother’s ascent to the presidency to his courtesy and respect towards his superiors, never going against them.
Tun Myint lives in a simple wooden house with zinc roofing. The chairs in his living room are made of rough plastic, and there’s no air conditioning on. All he has ever received from his powerful brother is a mobile phone, Tun Myint said — quite unusual, I think, in a country rife with nepotism and corruption. (By Takayuki Kasuga, Asia General Bureau)
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The following is the untold story of Myanmar President Thein Sein, as related by his elder brother Tun Myint.
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When my brother was 5 to 7 years old, we used to have toy guns made of pinewood. And when you shot the gun, a rubber band would be released and hit other rubber bands placed on a bamboo stick. He was very enthusiastic about shooting that gun. This interest of his was quite unusual. Except for that, he was just an average person.
There was a government-run primary school that taught up to the 4th grade in our village. He always stood 2nd or 3rd in his classes, but not the 1st. He was studious in mathematics, general science and the Myanmar language. We were not taught English then.
There were about 300 households in Kyone Ku village, where we were born and which is located west towards the sea side from Pathein, a city 300 kilometers west from Yangon. When we were kids, there were insurgents all around due to civil war after the country gained its independence in 1948. Villages in our area were about 1 to 3 miles apart, and they cooperated with the government in defending against the insurgents, who were Karens, one of the ethnic minorities, and some Communists.
My brother was accustomed to hearing the sounds of guns and bullets in our area from his younger days. He had also seen real guns. The insurgents would shoot from the other side of the stream, and we would be on the defensive. Once they saw that the village could not be easily occupied, the insurgents would retreat. This was happening in the villages. Sometimes, there would be a close-range battle with the insurgents. There were not that many soldiers then. The army organized our village for self-defense by providing us with arms and ammunition. My brother would be shooting his toy gun in these circumstances.
After passing the 4th grade, my brother attended the 5th grade at a middle school (junior high school) in Pathein. At that time, I was attending the 7th grade at the same middle school. I had to start my schooling later than usual, as the insurgency was widespread. The middle school taught up to the 7th grade. After a while, my parents couldn’t afford to keep both of us in school. So, my younger brother was called back to our village, where he had to stay for one year without any schooling. After one year, he was sent to attend the 6th grade at a middle school in another village, where he stayed at an uncle’s place. After he passed the 7th grade, he had to go to Pathein again to attend high school. I didn’t pass the 10th grade, so I had to leave school. He studied at a high school in Pathein.
When he was in high school, he played football sometimes, although he used to play volleyball a lot. He was even one of the volleyball team players selected at school. He would never waste his time — like, sitting at cafes or playing chess. Instead, he would be drawing maps or other pictures. We used to have two libraries in Pathein. He would look for books on Bogyoke (General) Aung San, the Myanmar independence hero. He would also read translated books in Myanmar, and books on international warfare. He would have self-control even at a young age. He knew smoking or wasting time were not good. So, he would never do either.
During our time, if you were attending the 10th grade or the matriculation, and if you were under 18, you could sit for the Defense Services Academy’s entrance exam. He could not afford his own education in college. So, when the DSA was inviting students to sit for its entrance exam, he responded to it and joined the military.
After attending for four years, he was conferred a BA-DSA degree and became a gazetted officer. He was fascinated with drawing maps when he was in high school. He would just do that, when he was free. When he joined the army, this interest developed into a profession, as the military uses maps a lot. At that time, the whole country was facing all kinds of battles with the insurgents. You would be lucky enough, if you still had your life. He started shouldering the country’s responsibilities when he was 18, and now he is already 70.
When I failed the matriculation, I went back home and helped out my parents with their business in our village. Our family — my mother, Ma Ma (my elder sister) and I — opened a cafe. We also sold ‘khaukswe mohinga’ (typical Myanmar noodles fish soup). Our area has a fishing industry. My father would weave split bamboos on which fish are put up to dry. We would sell them to the fishermen. Our village is near a stream. My sister is 5 years older than me, and I am 5 years older than my brother. She was not married and stayed a spinster. Later, she passed away from throat cancer.
My brother is a kind of person who wouldn’t show strong emotion, even if he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The only concern he has is for the country’s development and purpose. His experience in military affairs has taught him to keep things confidential. He doesn’t talk about the country’s affairs even with his own brother. He closely guards confidential matters. He wouldn’t even mention those matters to his wife or children. I don’t ask him about his work details, and I also don’t understand the nature of his work.
He is already worn out. He joined the army when he was 18. He was in combat and escaped only with his life. You can literally say that he’s the kind of person who shouldered his responsibilities until his head and hair deteriorated. He was stricken with malaria and had to wear an iron helmet in the army in the past. When he took off his helmet, he would lose tufts of his hair. He’s exhausted by life. His is a soldier’s life — facing battles, no regular meals, digging out roots and picking leaves in the jungles for food. He got a pacemaker when he became a lieutenant-general. He was afflicted with heart disease later.
We are Buddhists. We have to be striving hard during our present life so that our next life will be good. Because he did well in his past life, his present life is good. What he’s undertaking now are worldly things. He doesn’t have much time left to do religious things. He should start doing religious things.
He doesn’t have any ambition in business. I told him to start a company or something (thinking about his life after retirement), but he told me not to worry about him. He would get his pension, so it might be sufficient for him. He has three daughters. They are also government employees. He doesn’t work hard to become extremely wealthy. He’s the type of person who’s contented with one morning and one evening meal. He’s not greedy. He’s free from corruption because he’s always contented with what he has. He has the power to control himself. He always respects his superiors and his family members, and he never goes against them. He always respects me, too.
My father was a monk for nearly 3 years before getting married. After our mother passed away, he entered the monkhood again. He remained in that status until he passed away. So, we are children of a person who was most of the time a monk, and we are more religious than average Buddhists. We have less greed and anger than others.
During the Japanese occupation, I would see Japanese soldiers. Father would dig bomb shelters, top them up with bamboo thatch, and cover them up again with mud. I have seen war planes. I used to think they were Japanese bombers, but later on, when I grew up, I learnt that they were British.
Japanese soldiers did not understand the Burmese language. When I was older, I read about Japanese atrocities in Southeast Asia during the war. But, as far as I can remember, there were no rapes or killings in our area. These might have happened in other Asian regions.
Kids older than us, like ages 13 to 14, were taught Japanese, so they could speak a bit of Japanese.
There used to be many smallpox cases and other kinds of plagues in the villages. Whole villages would be destroyed by smallpox. When the Japanese came, they brought along smallpox vaccines. Smallpox was almost completely eradicated. I’ve got to openly thank the Japanese that were here during World War II.
There are so many good things about the Japanese. When they came to Myanmar, they even brought along doctors with them. Before that, villages would not have any medicine. The Japanese would come and give medical care and treatment as much as they could. My friend, a lady, was wounded in the thigh when a warplane strafed the area with a machinegun. If the conditions had been like in the past, she would have died. But the Japanese treated her and her wound healed, although she still limps a bit.
Source: Mainichi Japan