ASEAN Beat | Politics | Southeast Asia

Myanmar’s Generals Are Struggling to Tell Their Story

Big lie campaigns don’t come cheap, as a spin doctor takes his leave 

Myanmar’s Generals Are Struggling to Tell Their Story
Credit: Depositphotos

It’s getting harder for the junta in Myanmar to get its message across, with frustrated generals resorting to rants and temper tantrums that only a spoiled brat without a comforter could match, after sanctions forced their chief media advisor to quit.

Their efforts to justify the February 1 coup d’etat with claims that the November election was marred by fraud have not hit their mark, nor has their justification for the torturing and jailing of thousands and the slaughter of more than 900 people.

Coup leader Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing kicked off the big lie campaign almost immediately after seizing office, ordering the Myanmar Press Council not to use the words “regime” and “junta” – insisting his State Administration Council “was constitutionally formed by the military.”

That prompted 23 out 26 members of the council to quit.

Similar “requests” were made to the foreign press just three weeks ago – but that was back when Ari Ben-Menashe and his firm, Montreal-based Dickens & Madson Canada, was still employed by the junta in order to “assist in explaining the real situation in the country,”

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Ben-Menashe had signed a $2 million contract; widely ridiculed as mercenary, the lobbyist was previously denied asylum in Australia and arrested in the U.S. for violating the Arms Export Control Act after he tried to sell three Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to Iran with false end-user certificates.

His resume includes the former dictator and president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and a $6 million deal with Sudanese Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Ben-Menashe tried to convince an incredulous global public that the coup was legal under Article 417 of the constitution and that his new client, the Tatmadaw, as the military is known locally, is simply misunderstood – a point he pushed by helping to arrange a visit by a CNN reporter.

He did file foreign lobbying documents with the U.S. Department of Justice and was also tasked by Min Aung Hlaing to get rid of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other nations, in response to the tragic events of the last six months.

But according to Foreign Lobby, Ben-Menashe abandoned the contract after failing to secure sanction waivers.

That also meant he couldn’t get paid, and according to another dispatch, his “humanitarian” work in Myanmar, where Ben-Menashe remained on good terms with the generals, was, as he said, “getting very expensive.”

In other words, sanctions work.

Without Ben-Menashe, Min Aung Hlaing had to go it alone when responding to a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for reconciliation with the persecuted Rohingya minority.

Again the junta seemed more obsessed with the use of words as opposed to the issues, which includes efforts to charge Myanmar’s top generals with genocide and the ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Rohingya before an international court.

The junta’s foreign ministry issued a statement claiming the resolution was “based on false information and one-sided allegations,” adding “the term ‘Rohingya’ which is invented with [a] wider political agenda is also unrecognized and rejected by the government.”

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Just for good measure, the sensitive generals also added the Rohingya had “never been recognized as the ethnic nationality of Myanmar.” Ben-Menashe might have handled it better.

Min Aung Hlaing is finding out that big lie campaigns don’t come cheap and are getting harder to accomplish in the digital age where protestors with smartphones are documenting many of the military’s alleged crimes.

Nor can they stop protestors, many of them kids, from disseminating the evidence across the planet.

If they could, then there would be no need to ban foreign telecom executives from leaving the country, which was widely seen as an attempt to force their firms into implementing intercept technology, enabling authorities to spy on web traffic, phone calls and messages.

Sen. Gen. Ming Aung Hlaing and the Tatmadaw would like to see a return of the old order, the one that preceded the 2010 elections – an era when the military was in charge and the ability of people to organize and report was stymied by the lack of technology, which is on sale at today’s corner shop.

Struggle as they may, that return won’t happen.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Patreon and Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt