The divide-and-rule policy with which the British had ruled Myanmar for over 100 years paved the way to the outbreak of insurrections as soon as she regained independence. Moreover during the years of struggle for independence, a variety of conflicting ideologies and ideas had proliferated and infused the thought of those who had participated in the struggle and bred differences in outlook and attitudes. All this eventually caused the disintegration of the national unity and solidarity just prior to independence. Myanmar's national hero General Aung San and his ministers were assassinated in July 1947 through the complicity of the colonial conservative government. It was the most damaging act in the history of Myanmar. It left the country almost leaderless on regaining her independence from Britain in January 1948. The British also forcefully introduced the production of opium in the northern Myanmar states in the 19th Century with the aim of increasing the opium trade with China. Myanmar inherited these problems which have remained an entrenched and a current issue.
After regaining independence from Britain in 1948 a civilian government (Parliamentary Democracy Government) ruled the country. Because of internal party conflicts and clashes with the then 2 other opposition parties the government in power gave priority only to it party affairs and means and ways to get re-elected in the coming election. To cite one glaring example to show the extremes they went to, the then prime minister proclaimed Buddhism, which has over 80% of the population as its followers in the country, to be the State Religion of Myanmar to canvass votes for his party from the Buddhist majority of the population. At the same time the needs and requirements of the ethnic races were ignored and neglected. Unfortunately, his move created rebellion among the ethnic races professing other religious faiths and automatically led to armed insurrection in the country. Although, it was clear from the very beginning that the then government was wrong in their steps in the first place, the military had neither voice nor choice but to follow orders in fighting all the insurgent groups the government had created. The fighting lasted 45 years.
There are over one hundred ethnic groups in Myanmar.
Today after the Military Government (state law & Order Restoration Council - SLORC) assumed state responsibilities in September 1988 the Government has managed to bring 17.5 of the 18 armed insurgent groups into the legal fold and also has achieved success in bringing the drug warlord Khun Sa to surrender unconditionally. This is an astounding major achievement for Myanmar since it is the first time in her modern history she has managed to establish national unity, peace and stability. Even though Myanmar is very rich in natural resources, due to the lack of peace and stability, Myanmar has lagged behind in development compared to other ASEAN countries. During the crisis in 1988 over 65% of the industry in Yangon (capital city) was destroyed and looted while 118 policemen were injured, 35 policemen killed and 15 police stations were overrun by the unruly mob. Simultaneously, 52 innocent civilians were tried by kangaroo courts and beheaded by the unruly mob while an infantry platoon guarding a ministry building was also overrun. Moreover, the weapons, ammunition and explosives from the police stations and the infantry platoon, were taken away by the disorderly mob while the insurgents managed to bring explosives and weapons into the cities as well. Anarchism was therefore rampant in the country. the Burmese Communist insurgents were attacking the Government troops in the North East and Eastern borders while the Kayin insurgents attacked the South Eastern borders.
During this chaotic period the Armed Forces of Myanmar had no choice but to use whatever means available to restore Law and Order in the nation while repelling the attacking insurgent groups. In fact, the Armed Forces of Myanmar managed to save the country from disintegrating and from becoming a war zone. But unfortunately the international media and the western world portrayed a different picture of the Myanmar Armed Forces depicting it as a ruthless trigger-happy bunch of thugs shooting and killing civilians and repressing democratic activities. Their so-called heroes of democracy were at that time not only helpless but were staying well out of the way from the scene of rampage. The military government, the then State Law and Order Restoration Council after assuming the state responsibilities suspended the One-Party Socialist System and the Socialist Economy to pursue a Multi-Party Democratic System with a Market-Oriented Economy. In the transition period the Market-Oriented Economy was introduced and implemented in the economic sector while on the political sector, priority was given to an emergence of a new Constitution which will be compatible with the Multi-Party democratic system and which will also ensure peace and stability among the national races in the country. With this in mind the 1990 elections were held with the sole objective of electing the representatives to draft a new constitution.
Unfortunately, after the election the party winning the majority of the seats, instead of meeting its obligations changed its tune and demanded the immediate transfer of power. Logically, the country at that time had no constitution in place so the military as a transitional and a caretaker government ran the country by imposing martial law. But for a political party to run the country imposing martial law would not only be inappropriate but also impossible and even the very basic questions posed by people from all walks of life went unanswered. These were; (a) How would the National League for Democracy (NLD) party form a government? (b) For how many years will the NLD run the country as a government in the interim period? These are very simple basic questions to which the NLD never had an answer yet it still went on demanding the handing over of state power overnight. In Myanmar at that time, most of the armed groups which have now returned to the legal fold were still very active as insurgents and the situation was very fluid and tense. In Myanmar today security in her cities is fully guaranteed for the people while peace and tranquility prevail even in the border areas for the first time in her modern history. Starvation is a word alien to the people of Myanmar and Myanmar does not have homeless people who die of neglect by their own Government. Myanmar today is implementing the project called "From Huts To Proper Houses Scheme." All her citizens are being taken care of by the Government to have a proper home to live in. The Government of Myanmar is also in the process of promoting her economy for the benefit of her people. Priorities are given for the promotion of the economy so that a strong middle class will emerge. The Government of Myanmar foresees the situation that only when a strong middle class emerges will a functioning democracy prevail in the country. The Western Nations' theory of democracy first, democracy second and democracy third has not only failed in many developing countries but has created instability and chaos, and for how long those countries will continue to suffer we do not know.
In Myanmar, since the country is in the process of rebuilding a new nation, unity, stability and the promotion of all-round development are being given priority. The full right to practice party politics is not high up on her agenda because the nation needs all her strength for nation-rebuilding and national unity at the moment. The time will come after the new constitution is drafted, and before the elections, for political parties to do party politicking but not at this stage where party politicking by 10 political parties will affect the national unity and drain away her strength. Trying to force Myanmar to deviate from her original path and pressuring her to accept the interests of foreign governments under the pretext of democracy and human rights is very much detrimental to the national interests of the Myanmar people. Imposing sanctions and other pressures on her indicates the West's real intention which is, "hypocrisy but not democracy and might is right but not human right". Myanmar must and will start to build up her democratic institution with a solid foundation first and from there on it will expand and develop into a much higher level. No country in the world can expect to achieve a functioning democracy in the reverse. It is like expecting or forcing a child to run before first learning how to walk properly. It would be interesting if the so-called democracies would only look back on the stages they had to go through to become what they are at present. It will be more interesting to know how long it took for them to become what they are now.
The change itself indicates that the military government regards itself as a transitional or a caretaker government exacting a step-by-step transformation to the democracy it cherishes for the entire nation. If the military government intends to hold on to the power as has been accused of by the western governments, changes to the name of the government or members of its administration are not necessary. It is a change of substance, entity and identity. The military government is systematically moving towards her main objective of a modernized, well-developed and peaceful nation within a consolidated union and supportive economic infrastructure. To reach her ultimate goal, Myanmar intends to move phase by phase. The first phase during the SLORC administration in 1988 was to restore and establish Law and Order in the country, with a view to national reconciliation, stability, tranquility and to initiate the transformation to a multi-party democratic system with a market-oriented economy from a socialist one-party system and a centralized economy. Now, in phase two the SPDC will strengthen and reinforce the maintenance of peace and stability while reinvigorating all-round development in the country. Myanmar is also very much interested in meeting her commitments to become as developed as the senior ASEAN countries. With this in mind she intends to give high priority to the promotion of her economic sector. Myanmar also believes that in order to become a functioning and disciplined democracy in the near future, she will first have to create a strong infrastructure for economic and security enabling the emergence of a middle class. This is one of the main reasons for her priority in the development of her economic sector in this second phase. Simultaneously, in the process of spearheading the peace and development initiatives as the name implies, the drafting of the new constitution will also be completed and elections will take place in the next phase. Unfortunately, we have been inescapably stuck in the first phase much longer than we initially had expected, due to unnecessary pressures and problems created from within the country and abroad. The economic sanctions and embargoes imposed on Myanmar by the western countries are like putting obstacles and hurdles in our path to democracy. Ironically, these are the same western nations that are criticizing Myanmar for not being a democracy. The essence of the change is nothing but a systematic step-by-step process in meeting her preparedness for the transition to a disciplined and functioning democracy.
Designed by THAN TUN WIN, Embassy of
the Union of