By Zaw Zaw Htun
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Burma has been in political, social and economic crises for many decades. It can be argued that the questions of two major political issues, democratization and establishment of a federal state, are the root causes of Burma’s long history of armed conflicts as well as of the country’s crises in present days.
Moreover, due to the military regime’s practice of brutal oppressions against any opposition and mismanagement of the country’s economy with massive corruption, nepotism and cronyism, the Burmese people from all walks of lives have been facing with severe socio-economic hardship while being denied their political and civil rights.
When the 1988 pro-democracy uprising emerged, many expected that Burma would soon become more or less a democratic society under a civilian rule. The majority of Burmese people had perceived that the establishment of a new political order was imperative. This desire was proved by the 1988 mass movements, the outcome of the 1990 elections and, more recently, the 2007 September Monks-led movements.
However, the military regime’s failure to respect the 1990 Election results and its refusal to the call for political dialogue with oppositions towards negotiated settlement has led to a political impasse. In order to overcome the political deadlock and start a process of political transition towards national reconciliation, the two key political issues need to be addressed through political dialogue among stakeholders.
The Burma’s military regime
The Burmese military regime came into power in 1962 through a military coup and thus, the existence of military dictatorial system has been rooted in Burma for almost 50 years. Under the Burmese military dictatorial system all factors of the people’s of Burma political, social, economic and cultural lives are dictated by a group of senior generals through their armed forces over whom they have total control.
During the past 50 years of its rule, the military regime deactivated the 1947 Constitution and ruled the country without any constitution from 1962 to 1974. Then, from 1974 until 1988, it administrated the country under a one-party system with the 1974 Constitution which was unilaterally adopted by the military generals of the time. The one-party rule and the 1974 Constitution were overthrown by the mass movements for democracy in 1988, but the military dictatorial system was not. The junta has for more than 20 years ruled the country oppressively without any constitution. The military regime is now carrying out a plan to apply the 2008 Constitution that was enacted in order to realize its enduring rule in Burma.
As we have experienced in the struggle against the Burmese military regime over 20 years, the Burmese military dictatorial system can be summarized as follows:
1. In the political arena, the military regime led by the Commander-in-Chief manipulated the command of armed forces and tyrannized political activists and political movements as well as the people in general.
2. In the economic arena, the regime took control over the country’s wealth and monopolized all economic activities, and all walks of lives of the country were forced into impoverishment.
3. In dealing with the ethnic questions, while the legitimate rights of ethnic nationalities for equality and self-determination were denied, the regime applied the exercises of divide-and-favor and coercion against the ethnic groups.
4. In the engagement with international community, the regime manipulated the prevailing world order and avoided siding with one particular power or group. Rather, it depended alternately on different international actors in according to which most would benefit it and contribute to the survival of its perpetual rule.
Therefore, all the people of Burma have seriously confronted with severe crises in political and socio-economic lives of the country.
At present, the military regime is trying to make the 1990 election results and election-winning political parties irrelevant in the country’s political process. It has also tried to disband the ethnic resistance groups which have for decades strived for their rights of national equality and self-determination.
The Democracy Movement
The democracy movement since 1988 has determinedly been struggling against the military regime in order to establish a new society in Burma in which all the people can enjoy democracy, peace, equality, self-determination and development. However, it has yet to move on to the next step as we expected during this struggle of 20 years or so for democratic change. The primary obstacle is the military dictatorial system which the military regime is endeavoring to preserve through the 2008 Constitution and preparation for holding the elections in 2010.
The movement sees that Burma at this moment requires national reconciliation, rule of law and political transition towards democracy in order to bring herself out of political socio-economic crisis and the chronic nature of human rights violation. Therefore, our movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi has persistently been calling for dialogue with the military regime towards national reconciliation and political reforms.
Aung San Suu Kyi, despite having the legitimacy to govern the country under NLD alone, has offered many times to reconcile with the regime. Even while she was being detained in Insein prison, when she met with diplomats in May 2009, she expressed her will to reconcile with her jailers saying that “it is not still too late to achieve national reconciliation.”
In April 2009, the National League for Democracy (NLD) proposed to the regime through its ”Shwe-Gone-Taing Declaration” that it would consider participating in the election if certain conditions were met. Two vital conditions are the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and the review and revision of the 2008 constitution. A mere two weeks after this proposal from the NLD, the regime transferred Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Insein Prison and sentenced her to 3 years-hard labor in August 2009, but suspended the jail-term and put her under house arrest by the regime order. This was the response of the regime to engagement and reconciliation with the democracy movement.
Meanwhile, the domestic movements of the country’s various sectors, particularly political communities, Buddhist monks and religious communities, youths, students, workers and farmers continue to push for democratic change and increasingly connect with the democratic movements on the border, in exiles as well as with international community. The democratic movement continues to be strongly persistent in finding every possible way to move the country ahead positively.
Holding the election in 2010 is one of the steps in the regime’s unilateral road-map to so-called ”disciplined democracy.” There are 7 steps in this road-map and each of the seven steps in practice reinforces the military rule, institutionalizes the military’s political role in Burma, and ensures an even longer period of non-democratic rule in Burma. They have held a National Convention, drafted a Constitution, held a referendum and are now planning for an election.
The “2010 Elections” will be held under the “2008 Constitution” which the SPDC military government unilaterally and undemocratically adopted, in order to institutionalize the military’s political role. The purpose is to hang a veil of legitimacy over their illegitimate rule for more than 20 years and endure its military dictatorial rule.
Some individuals and so-called Burma’s experts may claim that the 2010 election might be something for change by saying “the constitution and elections together will fundamentally change the political landscape in a way the government may not be able to control.” They say it would bring “opportunities that may arise to push the new government toward reform and reconciliation.” Some others suggests that the opposition shoud participate in the elections as a tactical move like did in 1990 Election.
The “2010 Elections” is very much different from the 1990 election. The 1990 election was held without any constraint imposed by undemocratic constitution like that of the “2008 Constitution”. But, for this time, the tactical choice of participation in the elections is not feasible. There is no alternative but to boycott the “2010 Elections”. In the context of Burma’s political development, the pro-election argument of “something is better than nothing” and its protagonists must be strongly opposed.
The modern history of Burma and the world history taught us that only the people’s movements can change society into the next stage of historical process. As the party’s motto of ‘People are Our Adherence’, we must stand with the people and mobilize them for the people struggle against the Burmese military regime. The strength of mass power will bring the end to military dictatorial system.
Concerted people pressure through mass movements is needed. A nation-wide mass movement will only have greater impact if rallied behind by people from different walks of life – students, civil servants, writers and artists, members of government armed forces and religious leaders, particularly the monks.
For this reason, efforts should be made at setting conditions and creating an atmosphere under which a nation-wide mass movement can simultaneously happen. To do so, strengthening of emerging Burma’s civil society and empowering political groups to become driven forces with competency and capability are an urgent need for Burma’s opposition movement. Likewise, it is very much important to achieve cooperation from members of armed forces in the process of political change and at least, to get them refrained from hostile actions against the civil movements. The tasks of developing common strategy and having harmonized tactical moves among key actors of opposition are also vital to manage the change process in the right direction.
The party’s Extraordinary Meeting of Central Committee which was held from 20 to 24 July 2009 decided on the following two guiding programmes for the party’s immediate work plan:
- To mobilize all the people of Burma for the emergence of a nation-wide mass movement against the military dictatorial system; and
- To prepare for various forms of campaigns against 2008 Constitution.
For this task, the first ground will be “2010 Elections”. The preparation for mass boycott against 2010 Elections must be carried out. The party strongly urges all political forces inside and in exile to begin immediately with preparation for various forms of campaigns against “2008 Constitution” and “2010 Elections”.
It is clear that the regime have no intention of reconciling with either Aung San Suu Kyi or any of the pro-democracy and ethnic forces for the interest of the peoples or the nation. The regime has made that blatantly clear time and time again, and the recent verdict on Aung San Suu Kyi is the final say of the regime, a loud resounding “NO” to domestic and international calls for reconciliation and an inclusive political process.
Therefore, the struggle between the regime and the pro-democracy movements has become critical at this moment and it could lead to different positive and negative political scenarios.
- The country could achieve an inclusive political process that could lead to workable transparent and fairer environment for election and pacted-transition to democracy as a result of concerted and united domestic and international efforts.
- In the case of too little resistance to the election and too little pressure for change on the regime, it is highly likely that there will be a negative outcome and the military will be installed under the constitution for the foreseeable future.
The pro-democracy movements together with the international community shall continue to push the military regime to take concrete steps towards democracy. Concrete steps include the unconditional release of all political prisoners, cessations of the military offensives against ethnic nationalities, reconciliation talks with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, review and reform of the 2008 Constitution, and concrete actions towards making the country’s political process inclusive. This would include the inclusion of NLD, ethnic leaders and student leaders in any major policies decisions for the country, the opening of space and the removal of harassment and intimidation for civic education to be held throughout the country.
It is clear that the regime will not make any of these changes unless it faces concerted and massive resistance, both nationally and internationally. It is thus our work to support a non-violent mass movement both internally and externally against the 2010 elections and the results thereof.