Burma Coup D’Etat

On this day in 1962, Burmese General Ne Win led a military coup d’etat in Burma, abolishing that nation’s constitution and democratic government and establishing military rule.

Between 1948 and 1962, Burma enjoyed a democratic, parliamentary government. Nonetheless, it was plagued by widespread conflict and internal struggle. Those political and ethnic tensions, along with Constitutional disputes, weakened the Burmese democratic government’s hold on power. By 1958 the situation had so escalated that Prime Minister U Nu was forced to accept a period of military rule and interim rule by Ne Win to restore political order. The military eventually stepped down after 18 months, but the damage was done: rivals could see the weaknesses in U Nu’s government.

On 2 March 1962, less than two years after U Nu had resumed power of Burma, Ne Win wrested control of Burma in a military coup d’etat. He arrested U Nu and others and established a socialist state run by a revolutionary council of senior military officers. Ne Win immediately established himself Chairman of the Revolutionary Council as well as Prime Minister. He abolished the constitution and established a xenophobic military government. Though the coup was described as “bloodless” by global media, the son of Sao Shwe Thaik, first president of Burma, was shot dead, and another official “disappeared.”

A few months later, in July 1962, riots erupted at Rangoon University and troops were sent in to restore order. They fired on protestors and destroyed a student union building. Ne Win then addressed the nation in a short radio speech, concluding with the statement, “If these disturbances were made to challenge us, I have to declare that we will fight sword with sword and spear with spear.” He then left the country on pretense of a medical checkup and all universities in Burma were closed for more than two years until September 1964.

Under his rule, Ne Win instituted the “Burmese Way to Socialism,” a system incorporating extreme elements of nationalism, Marxism, and Buddhism. He founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party and championed socialist economic policies that devastated the country’s economy. Ne Win also introduced a new system of state-controlled hospitals, healthcare, and public education. The coup transformed Burma into a socialist single party state ruled under martial law and decimated that country’s economy.

On 23 July 1988, Ne Win resigned as party chairman. On 18 September 1988, General Saw Maung crushed hopes for democracy by crushing uprisings and leading another coup, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Ne Win himself. Eventually put under house arrest for plotting another coup, Ne Win died on 5 December 2002 at his lakeside house in Yangon. He was 91 and the death went unannounced.