Myanmar: A Democratic Misadventure? | The Background

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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Myanmar: A Democratic Misadventure?

Unlike in 1962, this time Myanmar is in full glare to the rest of the world, i.e. because of the advent of the social media, for sure. Almost 60 years back, General Ne Win seized power in a coup and immediately put the whole country behind a shroud. It became a kind of a lost land. I remember landing in Rangoon once as a transit passenger and found the airport to be almost completely deserted. Of late, things had been changing as the veil was lifted. There were signs of democracy returning but the thorn was there- the Rohingya crisis; it has been looming large ever since it started so many decades back. The Aung San Suu-Kyi government seemed to have turned a blind eye to this humanitarian catastrophe just to cling to the power.
Early on February, when the coup d’état happened and the country was put under emergency for one year, it took everyone by surprise. Soon, within weeks, protests erupted and a resistance, unlike never before, emerged throughout the country. As usual, the military retaliated and we began to witness horrific pictures largely through social media. Scores of people have been killed so far, thousands detained. Sources inside Myanmar as well as from Thailand and elsewhere confirm that the coup was, after all, not too surprising given the internal military politics which is very opaque. The coup might be a reflection of that politics- a way to maintain power within the military establishment.
We are bringing an in-depth article regarding Myanmar by Diptendu Sarkar.
The Background


Almost 13000 years back, it has been found that humans had settled in Burma or presently Myanmar. Right from the beginning, it consisted of different small belligerent kingdoms. In the second half of the 16th-century, Taungoo dynasty unified the smaller states into one and founded the largest empire of South East Asia. After them, the Konbaung dynasty continued the Taungoo reform legacy by centralising a controlled system of power. In their period Burma engaged war with neighbours and even with the Indian British Government. As a result, they entered into Asia’s longest run Anglo – Burmese war (1824-85) and in 1937 they lost their complete sovereignty in the hand of the British. In the time of the Second World War, Burmese Leader Aung San took the opportunity of the Japanese Army and took the Burmese Independence fight in a great height against the British and Japan ruled the country up to 1945. At the end of the Second World War, Allied power recovered Burma from the hands of Japan with the help of most of the Burmese ethnic minority groups as they were on the side of the British from early.
But the British Government from that time was starting to realise that it’s difficult for them to control the eastern frontier of India like Burma under their direct rule. As a result of that Burma had gained independence from the British on 4th January 1948. Just after the independence from British, co- supporters of colonial power, different minority political and civil groups engaged in a war against each other, which brings a severe civil war in that country. But the Thakin Nu led independent government after independence and later other civil governments failed to curb that civil war. Which helped the Burmese military annexed the political-administrative power of that country in 1989.
Due to huge opposition from civil society and protest from the political party’s military-led government forced to declare general election in Burma in May 1990. In that election, the great freedom fighter Aung San’s daughter Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League of Democracy won a landslide victory. But the military denied accepting their victory and made house arrest Suu Kyi and other political leaders. In addition to that, they appointed general Than Shew as the leader of the military-led government under the banner of the State Peace and Development Council. In this time, it’s wanted to be noticed that Suu Kyi also had chosen to take support from different retired military officer to form a coalition with other democratic forces of Myanmar and formed a forum called National League for Democracy (NLD). In 1995 she was released for the internal and foreign pressure but again she was house arrested.
Her party boycotted 2010 election in Myanmar as a result of that military-backed Union Solidarity Party registered a landslide victory in that election. But in the 2015 assembly election Suu Kyi led NLD won a landslide victory. But due to Myanmar constitutional obligation, she could not take the presidential post of that country. (As his former husband and their wards hold foreign citizenship) But her party took a softer stance with former military junta leaders and made a power-sharing pact in spite of strong protest from different democratic and ethnic parties of Myanmar. As a result of the military agreed to reform the Myanmar constitution and created a new post called ‘State Counsellor’ as the same as Prime minister of the country. As a result of that Suu Kyi agreed to give the key ministerial portfolios of a new government to the former junta government’s Army officials including defence. So, the Myanmar people also not free from anxiety to lose their democratic environment again at any moment in the hands of the army, as army commander -in -chief, U Min Aung Hlaing was able to maintain the army’s leading political role through power-sharing with Suu Kyi.
It’s already proved by history that in any heterogeneous country, unless the ruling class accept its diversity, a democratic environment never completely flourish into a good shape. The government must accept the process of inclusion of different ethnic, religious, linguistic or other minorities with the majoritarian establishments to form a proper national identity.
From the above discussion, it is revealed that the same way in former Burma or present Myanmar from the beginning of its new independent nation formation never tried to accept other minorities into nation-building except for the dominance of Bamar populations. It’s too shaky for us when we saw that just for the sake of the power, the global icon of democracy, Suu Kyi in 2017 patronising his country military brass in the question of the world biggest and cruelest ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas. The Hague International Court of Justice tried to prosecute the Myanmar government for the genocide and wanted to birch them for human right violations, Suu Kyi was seen to defend its military prosecution process against the Rohingya minority of Myanmar.
After the suspension of limited democracy in Myanmar in February 2021 and the house arrest of Suu Kyi by the military the country has erupted in protest, hitherto unseen, from every corner.
Myanmar is facing a democratic crisis repeatedly and the crisis lies inside the way of formation of its national identity, which is comprehended as the theory of ‘tangyintha’ or national race theory that only recognize the dominant Bamar population in Myanmar and backbone to reinforce the three layers of citizenship to practice state racism. We know from various cases of the world that different ethnic- nationalistic movement tries to establish a claim of the majority of their own ethnic community and that majoritarian group excludes other different groups and try to establish their dominance under the veil of democracy. But in that process, if ethnic cleansing takes place, it becomes extremely dangerous for the survival of democracy. It happened in the case of Myanmar too. By the process of exclusion of minorities of the country through the majoritarian led establishment democracy was wrongly practiced.
Myanmar had never been able to establish itself on the strong pillars of democracy. On the contrary, it has set an example to the world of a democratic misadventure.

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