Burma's junta is led by two generals wielding almost absolute power. But in-fighting and a lack of transparency have generated regular rumours of power struggles at the top.
Senior General Than Shwe, 73, is the head of the ruling junta and controls the army.
He is the most hard-line leader, strongly opposed to allowing any political role for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
After working in the Burmese postal service, Than Shwe joined the army at the age of 20 and his career included a stint in the department of psychological warfare.
He has acted as Burma's head of state since 1992, and was initially seen as more open than his predecessor, General Saw Maung. Some political prisoners were released, and human rights groups were allowed to visit Burma.
But he continues to suppress all dissent, and oversaw the re-arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003.
Rumours of his poor health are common, and were fuelled in January 2007 when he was admitted to a hospital in Singapore for two weeks - missing an Independence Day dinner for military leaders and officials.
But reports that he may be suffering from intestinal cancer have not been substantiated.
Not normally seen in public, a rare glimpse of his lavish lifestyle came in November 2006 when a video of his daughter's wedding appeared on the internet.
It showed the bride draped in jewels, pouring out large quantities of champagne beside an ornate, golden bridal bed. The footage sparked outrage from Burmese watchers.
Than Shwe is said to be superstitious and regularly seeks the advice of astrologers.
Maung Aye is also a career soldier and the second most powerful man in the country.
He is believed to have established strong ties with Burma's many drug lords in the Golden Triangle while operating as a colonel in the late 1970s and 80s, before he joined the military leadership in 1993.
He has a reputation for ruthlessness and xenophobia, and is also staunchly opposed to allowing Aung San Suu Kyi any future role.
He is also rumoured to be a hard drinker.