Position: Chair of the State Peace and Development Council of Burma
Time in Power: 18 years
Than Shwe worked as a postal clerk before joining the army in 1953. After the military seized power in Burma in a coup d'état nine years later, he began to work his way up the ranks, eventually being appointed an instructor at the Central Institute of Political Science. He survived a series of internal purges and eventually replaced Saw Maung as the head of government in 1992. When Than Shwe took power, it was widely anticipated that he would be more moderate. However, the democratic reforms that many had hoped for never took place. Than Shwe consistently refused to enter into discussions with the leader of the country's pro-democracy faction, Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under house arrest since July 1989. His regime brutally cracked down on mass protests in 2007 and relocated the country's capital from Rangoon to a secretive, hidden enclave inland. Shwe is rarely seen in public. Rumors of his failing health began to circulate when he traveled to Singapore in 2007 for treatment of an undisclosed illness.