The Never-ending Military Rule in Burma

Military rule in many third world countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America is not a rare event. Sometimes it is for the right reason that is backed up popular support, which earns the coup leaders respect and admiration. Sometimes it is for the wrong reason with no popular support that only aggravates people with a sense of betrayal and helplessness. Sometimes it is for the right reason and yet delivering wrong results. Sometimes it is a welcome event and sometimes it is not.

Military coups often happen under the pretext of preserving constitution, restoring law and order or curbing rampant corruption within the civil administration of the government. Once these tasks are done, the military is expected to return to its barracks without delay, leaving the task of running the country to politicians. When it fulfills its genuine obligations to people, it is a boon for the country and shows its maturity.

But power, either unbridled or unchallenged, often has a corrupting influence. Thus, the absolute power of the military tends to corrupt it absolutely, making it more corrupt than the civilian government that it had brought down. It forgets its earlier promises to return power to civilians, entertaining a very low opinion about ‘bloody’ civilians — attitudes and actions that are sure recipes for untold suffering to the masses, triggering in popular unrest. Sometimes such people’s resistance may be lucky and strong enough to topple the hated regime. I say, lucky, because, unless the junta feels that ‘enough is enough and it must let go’, it can still hold onto power (after all, unarmed civilians are no match to its military brutal prowess), if necessary, by replacing its ‘hated’ leader with a newer ‘benevolent’ face. When it happens, it is usually for a long haul, and the country is damned.

Sometimes the military coup leaders take power as part of an elite or foreign conspiracy where none but their sponsors only benefit. Sometimes the coup leaders, sensing the public mood, improvise for the sake of remaining in power through a variety of measures that may appear to be hybrid between civil and military rule. Its leaders switch the khaki combat dress for casual civilian attire. When that happens, the military may be a corrupting influence that breeds the worst kinds of bureaucracy, sliding the country slowly but steadily into a ‘failed’ state.

The military has remained the face of the government in Burma since 1962 when General Ne Win took control of the country. Truly, there is hardly a county in our world today, outside some communist-run countries in Asia that can match Burma’s long record of military rule. After Ne Win’s long repressive rule, the current military regime –” the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council), formerly known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, seized power in a bloody coup in 1988. Sensing the mood of the nation and outside pressure, the regime briefly relaxed on politics, allowing for the formation of political parties. It even announced holding a general election in 1990. The intention, however, was ignoble and hypocritical, hoping all along that its pro-regime client parties would win.

Under the able leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the NLD (National League for Democracy) emerged and registered with the Election Commission as a national party in 1988. So did many other ethnic and local organizations to cater to the needs of their respective ethnic and religious constituents. For example, in the Arakan (Rakhine) state, the National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR), came into existence to represent its vast Rohingya Muslim community and won 4 seats in the general election of 1990. In the broader national context, the NDPHR supported the NLD and its leader Daw Suu Kyi.

However, if there was a single party that really captured the mood and aspiration of the vast majority of people living inside Burma, it was the NLD. The party, against the worst dreams of the ruling junta, grabbed 82% of the seats of the National Assembly, proving its grass root support among non-Burmans also. Unfortunately, the results of the election were never honored by the ruling junta. Instead, of allowing Daw Suu Kyi to form the government, the regime continued its repressive policies, setting ever new records in violations of human rights.

As is often expected in an ethnically diverse country like Burma, glued more by strong arm tactics of an authoritarian and repressive regime than a binding desire for unity on the basis of Federalism, minorities of any kind became the easy targets of the junta-orchestrated pogroms. For instance, the Pyi Thaya Operation of July 1991-92 resulted in the exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh. The SLORC military junta banned the NDPHR under order 8/92 on March 18, 1992 without any reasonable ground. Since 1992, increased Na-Sa_Ka violations of human rights have made the lives of many utterly miserable and unlivable. In its July 2002 report, the Human Rights Watch declared: “Violence against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan is a way of life. As opposed to other parts of Burma, in Arakan, the violence against Muslims is carried out systematically by the Burmese army.” U Kyaw Min (alias Mohammad Shamsul Anwarul Hoque) –” the NDPHR leader was arrested on March 17, 2005. On July 29, 2005 he was sentenced to 47 years imprisonment in the notorious Insein prison on ludicrous charges related to his nationality. His wife and three children (including two daughters) were also sentenced to 17-years term on the same ground.

As a matter of fact, outside the pro-junta sympathizers, none has been tolerated, not even a majority Burman who refuses to dance to the raucous tune of the military junta.

Soon after the election, Daw Suu Kyi and her party (NLD) came under mounting pressure from the ruling junta. The ruling junta first convened a National Convention in 1993 to formulate a new constitution. The Convention was adjourned in March 1996 when the NLD withdrew out of protest over undemocratic proceedings. Soon Daw Suu Kyi’s movement was restricted. On May 30, 2003 she and her supporters were viciously attacked during her trip to northern Burma –” dashing all hopes for democracy and political reform. The NLD offices were clamped down and its leaders arrested. Daw Suu Kyi was put under renewed house arrest. In August 2003, the junta presented a 7-step ‘roadmap’ for political and constitutional reform, only to later announce on May 17, 2004 its intention to reconvene the National Convention. On October 19, 2004, the junta abruptly replaced the Prime Minister Khin Nynt, considered too soft in his negotiation with the opposition, with Lt. Gen. Soe Win.

The SPDC regime remains the worst violators of human rights and freedom, matters of serious concern for the international community. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens — some (like the Rohingya) even denied citizenship –” are still forced to live and choose a life of uncertainty as unwanted refugees in countries like Bangladesh and Thailand.

Sadly, those who have the power to make a difference for better inside Myanmar are more concerned about exploitation, cheap labor and trade relations that profit them. They are least concerned about human rights and democracy. Worse still, Burma is not Middle East. So, while the conscientious human beings of our planet cry foul seeing the monumental hypocrisy and blatant disregard for human sufferings, the powerful nations allow the inhuman abuse to continue unimpeded inside Myanmar.

A concerted effort, dictated more by simple ethics and morality than crass economics, from the world community is required to restore people’s right in Burma. The least the veto-wielding powers in the UNSC could do (say, for their self-styled and bloated image of being ‘civilized’ nations) is to put pressure on the SPDC regime to release all political prisoners, including Daw Suu Kyi and U Kyaw Min, allowing them to leave Burma on their free will.