BURMESE WAY OF DEMOCRACY
It is undeniable historical fact that, we, the people of Union of Burma, have had a very bitter experience during the Burmese General’s homegrown Burmese Way of Socialism that led Burma from riches to rags. And it seems that we are now heading for another General’s homegrown Burmese Way of Democracy.
After General Khin Ngunt announced his seven points political roadmap to democracy in August 2003; “The Leaders welcomed the recent positive developments in Myanmar…” was a statement made by the Association for Southeast East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at their 9th summit in Bali in October. And now, the National Convention, the first step in the seven point roadmap is under process without the participation of winners of the 1990 general elections and delegates of Ethnic nationalities.
How can one possibly say that the actions of Burmese military junta are “positive” while the junta threatened the life of Aung San Suu Kyi and putting her under strict house arrest, detained and tortured thousands of democracy activists, and persists in persecuting religious and ethnic minorities around the country.
In reality, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is replicating the methods practiced by its predecessor, General Ne Win. The resemblance of the present military junta to their predecessor Gen. Ne Win’s rule is even more pronounced when Khin Ngunt, the notorious Burmese military intelligence chief turned Prime Minister, announced his political roadmap to democracy without mentioning any time frame and ignoring the role of ethnic nationalities and winners of the 1990 general election in Burma.
In spite of the junta’s claimed that they are working towards transforming Burma into disciplined democratic country, the junta’s Generals’ home grown democracy seems to follow neither the Westminster nor the United States presidency model. It seems the Generals are pushing the country towards a Burmese version of democracy that will only continue the legacy left by General Ne Win’s brand “Burmese Way of Socialism”, which railroaded Burma from its position as the “rice bowl of Asia” to that of a United Nations’ Least Developed Country (LDC).
In 1962, General Ne Win staged a coup, justifying the move he had done by saying that he saved the country from the brink of disintegration. The General discarded the 1947 constitution and ruled the country in the name of the Revolutionary Council, without a constitution or legislative body, for twelve years.
In the early 1970s, Gen. Ne Win called for advises in preparation of a new constitution. The People of the Chin ethnicity, along with many people both Burmans and non-Burmans, presented their sincere input to the General, suggesting that Burma is best suited with federal system based on democracy and ethnic equality. Unfortunately, those who proposed a federal system based on democratic principle and ethnic equality were sent to jail. According to the then Revolutionary Council, the federalists are a danger to ethnic integration of the country.
While locking up those who advocated for federalism based on ethnic equality behind bars, Gen. Ne Win pushed a referendum on his proposed Burmese brand of socialism. It was not surprising that his proposal received a 90 percent approval, according to the Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP).
According to the 1974 constitution, the BSPP then became the only legitimate political party in the country. No other political party was allowed to form. Further more, the youth wing called “Lanzin lu nge” (a youth program equal to the red guard of China under Chairman Mao Tze-Dong) was created by the BSPP. Under the BSPP one- party rule, every student was compelled to join “Lanzin Lu Nge” and the main goal of “Lanzin lu nge,”, is to support BSPP in every aspects.
Gen. Ne Win used the new constitution and the referendum as a platform for legitimacy for his dictatorship. After the new constitution was adopted in 1974, Gen. Ne Win shake off his military uniform and preferred to be rule and call as “Mr. President” or “Mr. Chairman”. Whether he takes the post of president or the chairman of the BSPP party according to his will, he remains the main arbiter of power in Burma politics.
Comparably, the present military junta in Burma staged a coup, by killing thousands of peaceful demonstrators in 1988. The coup’s leaders claimed that they had saved the country from the brink of anarchy, and they nullified the 1974 constitution. Even though they allowed political parties to form, including the National League for Democracy (NLD), the junta refused to transfer power to the winning party of 1990 election which the military government themselves has held.
Echoes of the “Lanzin lu nge” are cropping up as well. The formation and functioning of Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), who carryout the ambushed of Aung San Suu Kyi in May, 2004 and forcibly rallied the civilians in supports of “Khin Ngunt’s political roadmap”, is exactly the same as that of the “Lanzin lu nge” during Ne Win era.
Now, after fifteen years of ruling the country without any constitution or legislative body, Gen. Khin Ngunt comes up with seven points, including national convention that will be followed by drafting a new constitution and referendum, political road map to democracy. No body knows how long it will take to reach the stage of that seventh point, when Burma will ostensibly become the world’s most disciplined democratic country.
There was a time when the strongman of Burma, Gen. Ne Win used the new constitution and referendum as a stage to shake off his military uniform in order to gain legitimacy for one party dictatorship rule and drive the country straight to United Nations’ LDC member with Burmese Ways of Socialism till he was ousted by the popular uprising in 1988.
Likewise, the present military junta’s leaders Gen. Khin Ngunt and Gen. Than Shwe version of national convention with it’s handpicks delegations that will be followed by drafting of the country’s new constitution and national referendum seems to be replicating the Ne Win version of drafting a new constitution and national referendum that pave the way for legitimacy to General Ne Win’s one party BSPP dictatorship rule.
It is obvious that the present military junta is exactly copying their predecessor Gen. Ne Win system by proposing the national convention and a new constitution to gain legitimacy for the military rule in order to transform Burma into the world’s “most discipline democratic country” – led and strong armed by a ruthless military. That the military will play the main arbiter of power in the country and every movement of the citizens will be closely watched, and they will call it the Burmese Way of Democracy.
[Salai Bawi Lian Mang is co-founder and director of Chin Human Rights Organization and he is now a visiting scholar at University of California at Berkeley, graduate school of Journalism]
By Salai Bawi Lian Mang
May 7, 2004