In 2005, following consultation with the stars, Myanmar’s military chief Than Shwe moved the capital from Yangon – formerly Rangoon – to Naypyidaw.
Then British ambassador to Thailand, Derek Tonkin, revealed: “It is said that Than Shwe’s astrologer told him to move the capital because Rangoon would suffer a calamity.”
Well, that disaster came more than two weeks ago in the form of a mighty cyclone that ripped through the country leaving 66,000 people dead or missing and millions more homeless.
With Yangon now a city of rubble, the junta’s escape is likely to confirm in its leaders’ minds that they really do have a near supernatural right to rule.
However, helping the mystical forces employed by the junta is the more earthly pastime of vote rigging.
Yesterday the country’s military rulers declared victory in a national referendum on a new constitution with 92.4% of the ballots.
The referendum took place last Saturday – days after the cyclone wreaked havoc on Myanmar leaving much of it underwater with tens of thousands of people unaccounted for. Despite all of this the turnout was 99% – a figure that even the most optimistic of astrologers would have called amazing.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition National League for Democracy spokesman, Nyan Win, has been a little blunter in his description of the referendum, dismissing it as “full of cheating and fraud”.
And, as the results came out, Reuters commented that after 46 years of unbroken military rule many people both inside and outside Myanmar now think it will take an act of God to get rid of the junta.
If a natural disaster like Cyclone Nargis – with its 200 kph gales and brutal four-metre tidal surge – can do little to dislodge the regime, the news agency just might have a point.
However, more distressing than the junta’s continuing tyranny is its vile resistance to granting visas to foreign aid workers to facilitate a coherent relief programme in the country.
“We are way behind the curve compared to any other international disaster in recent memory,” said Mark Malloch Brown from the UK foreign office.
Talking about the junta’s reaction, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama added: “We are trying to convince them to allow rescue teams into Myanmar. However, we can’t put pressure on them. We are going to talk and convince them.”
And that perhaps says it all.
With many thousands of lives at risk, the international community is hoping to persuade a regime that has shown scant regard for its people at the best of times – and no regard for the thoughts of outsiders at all – to be reasonable and allow foreign help in.
While the junta can hardly be blamed for a natural disaster, it can be held accountable for mishandling disaster management.
And if the junta had been armed with machetes rather than a despicable determination to keep the world away their neglect could be seen as mass murder.