The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was announced on 3 January 1974, after a new basic law had been approved by plebiscite. Under the 1974 constitution (which was suspended in September 1988), the leading organ of state power was the 489-member unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw). The head of state was the chairman of the Council of State (29 members in 1986), which was elected by the People's Assembly and theoretically responsible to it. The prime minister headed the Council of Ministers (24 members in 1986) and also served on the Council of State. Other main governmental organs were the Council of People's Justices (9 members), the Council of People's Attorneys (6), the Council of People's Inspectors (6), and the people's councils at the level of the state (or division), township, and ward or village tract. Nationwide legislative elections were held in 1974, 1978, 1981, and 1985; in each election, voters either accepted or rejected candidates from a single slate presented by the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Suffrage is universal at age 18, although the military has taken measures to discourage voter registration. A military coup in September 1988 brought the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to power. SLORC abolished the previous government and placed the country under martial law. In June 1989, the official title of the country was changed to Myanmar Naing Ngan. The SLORC junta supervised and coordinated the work of the central and local organs of state power. It renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997.
In the multi-party election held 27 May 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) received 87.7% of the total vote and took 392 of its 447 contested seats, and the National Unity Party (NUP), the former BSPP re-registered as a new party, took only 10 seats with 2.4% of the votes.
SLORC refused to hand over power to the NLD, instead voiding the election and insisting that a new constitution need be drafted and approved by referendum, and by SLORC, prior to the transfer of power. Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992 and General Than Shwe replaced him on the same day as Chairman of SLORC and as Chief of State and Head of the Government. Vice-chairman of the SPDC is General Maung Aye. The Foreign Minister is Win Aung, and the Home Affairs Minister is Tin Hlaing. Lt. Gen. Tin Oo, former second secretary of the SPDC and chief of staff of the army, died in a helicopter crash 19 February 2002. The other two "secretaries" of the SPDC are Lt.-General Khin Nyunt and Lt.-General Win Myint. Some observers have noted possible tensions among the top generals. Tin Oo's death will likely accelerate the factional struggle within the SPDC as the more liberal factions see an opportunity to acquire some of the conservatives' waning power.