Home Insider The Second “Diamond-studded Night”

The Second “Diamond-studded Night”

A front-page headline of a local Myanmar-language journal dated January 20 reads “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Feels Uncomfortable with Marriage Ceremony of U Win Htein’s Son” entitled to highlight an interview with Monywa Aung Shin, Secretary of the Central Information Committee of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

While the interview deals with extensive topics covering a range of subject matters that include the current political scenario and media freedom, it goes for the said title apparently to snatch immediate public curiosity, taking chance of a recent high-profile debate. Indeed, the wedding of the son of senior NLD executive member Win Htein came to a war of words as it evoked public memories of an ill-famed lavish reception thrown by head of the government Senior General Than Shwe for his daughter’s marriage in then military-ruled Myanmar. The ceremony took place in mid-2006 when the country was under the authoritarian regime with the people enduring countless woes suffered from the oppression and incompetence leadership of the military. The reception came to the public’s awareness through a leaked 10-minute video which spread online via YouTube at a stage Myanmar was still digitally impoverished.

The clip showed a marriage ceremony boasting extravagant luxury furnished with splendid jewellery and costly wedding gifts, participated by military community figures and elite guests in their finest clothing and most expensive jewels. Plus the visible gifts, the liberality at the wedding reportedly included luxury cars and houses worth a total of $50m which was not seen in the clip. The video later found a colloquial name ‘Star-studded Night’ largely due to the glittering jewelled clusters in the hair of the bride, Thandar Shwe, wearing diamond studs in her ears along with at least six thick strings of what is believed to be diamonds. The reception, widely reported in Southeast Asian newspapers, aroused claims from opponents of the regime that the spending on the event was more than three times the state health budget.

Sein See Thaw Nya’ vs. ‘Htein Yee Thaw Nya’

President Htin Kyaw, Vice President Henry Van Thio, cabinet members, NLD senior members, regional chief ministers, business tycoons and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi herself showed up to cheer the son of their political partner Win Htein, who is a member of the central executive committee of the NLD as well as a party spokesperson. The ceremony, laid on at the MGallery Hotel in Nay Pyi Taw on January 8, was seen in heaps of wedding gifts from sponsors. Rumour had it that the cost of the floral decoration alone was a whopping amount of dollars which a lifetime would not be enough for the man in the street to save it.

MGallery Hotel is run by Max Myanmar Group, a top conglomerate in the country led by Zaw Zaw who is reportedly among Myanmar’s richest business tycoons. The ceremony venue was provided by Zaw Zaw as a wedding gift. Diamond ornaments worn by the bride were sponsored by the country’s most famous Win & San Diamonds and Fine Jewelry. State’s high-profile guests, mounds of gifts and ostentatious embellishment shaped the event so lavish that an attendee noted that it appeared to be a State function with presents.

The photos of the nuptials quickly went viral to spark an outcry in a country up to this time stuck with poverty, with larger part of the society being overshadowed by economic deprivation. The uproar was seemingly fuelled by the earlier unwise comments made by Mon State Chief Minister Dr Aye Zan who foolishly asked people to take out a meal from their repast so as to curb the skyrocketing commodity prices and inflation.

The video of Hsan Win Htein and Hnin Yadana Zaw’s nuptials became a reminder of authoritarian-era “Diamond-studded Night”. Some quickly (and ironically) named it in Burmese as “Htein Yee Thaw Nya” to be rhymed with “Sein See Thaw Nya” (Diamond-studded Night). “Htein Yee Thaw Nya” can produce two meanings because of the spelling corruption as “The Dazzling Night” and mockingly “The Night on which Mr Htein Has a Laugh”.

“A marriage ceremony tends not to be (spectacular like this) in Myanmar tradition. Although the modern practice involves the culture of giving wedding gifts, it is not our tradition to my knowledge,” said Aung San Suu Kyi when she offered a wedding speech to the bride and bridegroom.

The State Counsellor continued to share the rituals found in a traditional wedding; the bride and groom offer alms-food to the monks as a good deed to mark their union as man and wife. She reminded the society to review which of traditional customs should be conserved and what sort of new trends should be embraced. She suggested the guests to ponder the direction the country or the culture was heading towards in such occasion of big gathering. “I heard much from the wedding attendees. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi felt uncomfortable with what she saw, according to them. Here it is ‘uncomfortable’, not ‘angry’. She apparently felt uncomfortable. May be she felt like that seeing a pile of gifts, expensive wardrobes, etc. She felt uncomfortable witnessing those. Soon she took to the stage and talked on the matter that it should not be in this way during a time like this. I heard so. But it is not my first-hand experience, just a hearsay. I support her words,” said Monywa Aung Shin in an interview with Unity journal.

“The marriage ceremony was all attended by tycoons, high-profile political figures and chief ministers. I see this as a second lavish wedding event thrown by those in power after ‘Sein See Thaw Nya’ (Diamond-studded Night),” said Yangon-based reporter Phyo Wai Win. The event came shortly after Aung San Suu Kyi at a peace talk in Kaya state called on people to be economical in receiving and catering government executives during their trips on duty to cutback the spending of state funds. “This wedding prompts people to recall a military-ruled era nuptials famously called as ‘Sein See Thaw Nya’. Those in leadership should be cautious of such occasion in a poor country where the grassroots is suffering general hardship,” said Nyo Nyo Thin, a former lawmaker at the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), lower chamber of Myanmar parliament.