| Kyaw Lyon |
YNGON (dpa) – Myanmar Army Sergeant Maung Than runs a lucrative sideline tutoring applicants to the country’s three military academies.
“The tests are very difficult for applicants as these young guys don’t have the right experience, but they are very eager to pass,” the 48-year-old said.
Apart from written exams, the academies’ selection process includes physical fitness tests, teamwork and comradeship screening, psychological evaluation and general interviews.
“Most of them believe being a military officer is the good and safe way for their future,” Maung said.
Half a century of military dictatorship has left the people of Myanmar fearful and mistrusting of the army, but many still hope to become officers, or for their family members to have a military career.
“I don’t know the exact number, but more than twice as many people applied than were chosen this year,” Maung said.
The military still holds most of the political and economic power, and draws thousands of new cadets a year to the Defence Service Academy, Defence Service Medical Academy and Defence Service Technology Academy.
During the dictatorship of General Ne Win and his successors, the military gained control of all sectors of the economy, one of the least-developed in the world, in a country where most people live below the poverty line.
“Under the military rule, many who joined Tatmadaw (the military) were not there to serve the country, but just to find opportunities for themselves,” said Tin Oo, who was Commander-in-Chief for 1974-76.
“The military practises carrot-and-stick ways: if you are loyal to them, you will be rewarded. Otherwise, you will be in trouble,” said U Tin Oo, who joined the opposition during the 1988 uprising against the junta, and co-founded the main opposition National League for Democracy party that year.
The army ran things for their own profit, not the good of the country, he said.
“The Tatmadaw leaders not only siphoned off national resources, they also cultivated the habit of corruption among officers as well as among other people.”
The military transferred power to a nominally civilian government following the 2010 elections, but maintained its grip on security ministries, a guaranteed representation in cabinet and parliament, and an effective veto over constitutional change.
“They can still do whatever they want,” said Phyu Ei Theim, an activist who recently visit refugee camps in the northern state of Kachin, where rebels are fighting government troops.
“Men in some villages don’t dare to stay at home when government troops come, as they sometimes beat them with no reason,” she said.
But the army is now working to improve its appeal to the population, including to women. In October, it had its first intake of women recruits to the Defence Services Academy in more than 50 years.
Women were occasionally recruited to the military during the 1950s, but were barred under the military regimes from 1962 until 2011.
More than 1,000 female secondary school graduates applied for 100 positions in the academy last year. That first class graduated last week.
“Now, I don’t need to be worried for my daughter, as at least she has a steady life and bright future,” said the 52-year-old mother of one cadet after the graduation ceremony.
“I believe I have made the right choice for her,” she said.
Not all agree that the job security make it a legitimate choice.
“Why would I want to join them?” said Hein Ko Aung, a first-year university student. “I know that way is easy, but I don’t want to be part of the country’s destroyers.”
Others say the army is still the best place for some people, as in any other country.
“My son who has very bad behaviour is now a captain (in the army),” said Hla Myo Oo, a 53-year-old private tutor in Yangon.
“They sent him to Russia to study for a masters degree. If I hadn’t made him sign up, I can’t help thinking he might be a gangster or a beggar by now.”