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The 1962 Burmese coup d'état on 2 March 1962 marked the beginnings of socialist rule and the political dominance of the army in Burma/Myanmar which spanned the course of 26 years. The resulting political system lasted until 18 September 1988, when the military took over power as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (then renamed the State Peace and Development Council) following the nationwide 8888 Uprising and virtual breakdown of the Socialist regime. The 1962 coup was led by Ne Win and the socialist Union Revolutionary Council, made up of 24 members. For the next 12 years until 1974, the country was ruled under martial law, and saw a significant expansion in the military's role in the national economy, politics and state bureaucracy.[1] The government's policies and ideology following the coup were based on the Burmese Way to Socialism, which was publicly announced a month after the coup and supplemented with the founding of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.


Ne Win, leader of the coup.

Following Burmese independence there were uprisings in the army and amongst ethnic minority groups. In late 1948, after a confrontation between army rivals, Ne Win was appointed second in command of the army, and his rival Bo Zeya, a communist commander and fellow member of the Thirty Comrades, took a portion of the army into rebellion. Ne Win immediately adopted a policy of creating socialist militia battalions called Sitwundan under his personal command with the approval of U Nu.

On 31 January 1949, Ne Win was appointed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and given total control of the army replacing General Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen. He rebuilt and restructured the armed forces along the ruling Socialist Party's political lines, but the country was still split and the government was ineffective.

Ne Win was asked to serve as interim prime minister from 28 October 1958 by U Nu, when the AFPFL split into two factions and U Nu barely survived a motion of no-confidence against his government in parliament. Ne Win restored order during the period known as the Ne Win caretaker government'.[2] Elections were held in February 1960 and Ne Win handed back power to the victorious U Nu on 4 April 1960.

Coup d'état

Less than two years later, on 2 March 1962, Ne Win again seized power in a military-staged coup d'état. Ne Win became head of state as Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council and also Prime Minister. He arrested U Nu, Sao Shwe Thaik and several others, and declared a socialist state run by a "Revolutionary Council" of senior military officers. Sao Shwe Thaik's son, Sao Mye Thaik, was shot dead in what was generally described as a "bloodless" coup by the world's media. Thibaw Sawbwa Sao Kya Seng also disappeared mysteriously after being stopped at a checkpoint near Taunggyi.[3]

Following riots at Rangoon University in July 1962 troops were sent to restore order. They fired on protesters and destroyed the student union building.[4] Shortly afterward, Ne Win addressed the nation in a five-minute radio speech which concluded 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".[5] On 13 July 1962, less than a week after the speech, Ne Win left for Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom "for a medical check up".[6] All universities were closed for more than two years until September 1964.

In 1988, 26 years later, Ne Win denied any involvement in dynamiting of the Student Union building, stating that his deputy Brigadier Aung Gyi, who by that time had fallen out with Ne Win and been dismissed, had given the order and that he had to take responsibility as a "revolutionary leader" by giving the sword with sword and spear with spear speech.

Aftermath and effects

The coup transformed Burma from a multi-party federational union into a single party state where the Burma Socialist Programme Party was the sole legal political entity allowed to operate in the country. Various private commercial interests, especially those owned by non-Burmese, were nationalised and many foreign companies withdrew from their operations. Up until 1974, the Union Revolutionary Council ruled the country with martial law.

In 1974, a referendum on a new constitution greatly influenced by socialist doctrine was held, and the country became the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. A new flag with socialist symbols was adopted and the country came under the rule of a parliament filled solely by the BSPP.

The 1962 coup is seen as the beginning of military dominance in Burma's political and internal affairs, which still lasts today. The Socialist regime and the system of governance alongside the Autarky and Isolationism greatly afflicted the economy and development of Burma, which by 1987 was relegated a Least developed country.


  1. Schock, Kurt (1999). "People Power and Political Opportunities: Social Movement Mobilization and Outcomes in the Philippines and Burma". pp. 358. 
  2. Nicholas Tarling, ed (1993). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. ISBN 0-521-35505-2. 
  3. Smith, Martin (1991). Burma — Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. London and New Jersey: Zed Books. 
  4. Boudreau, Vincent (2004) Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., pp. 37-39, 50-51, ISBN 0-521-83989-0
  5. The Burmese phrase is "dah go dah gyin, hlan go hlan gyin". Two different English translations of the speech can be read on the front page of the Rangoon Nation and the Rangoon Guardian of 9 July 1962. Part of The Nation "s headline of 9 July 1962 read "General Ne Win States Give Us Time to Work: Obstructionists are Warned: Will Fight Sword with Sword").
  6. News items of Ne Win's trip to these countries for 'medical check up' can be found in The Guardian and The Nation of 14 July 1962

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