Dr. Clark D. Neher


Contemporary Burma

  1. Burma
    1. 1989 martial law government = official name (English) Myanmar. Transliteration of what has been the official name in the Burmese language. Ethnic connotations, implying country is the land of the majority ethnic group, the Burmans.
    1. Ethnic conflict
      1. Desire for autonomy. Shans and Karens in continual civil war.
    2. Economic stagnation
      1. Despite rich natural resources
    3. Political Oppression
      1. History of struggle against oppression
        1. 1948 success following revolt against British led by Aung San, father of modern Burma. Assassinated in 1947.
      2. Military rule since 1962, led by Ne Win. Disbanded Western-style parliament, banned political parties, restricted civil liberties.
        1. radical economic policies called Burmese Way to Socialism, including nationalization of major industries and businesses and financial institutions. Controlled by BSPP. Party's main function was to legitimize army rule.
        2. isolationism
    4. People's Revolt
      1. Summer of 1988: hundreds of thousands of farmers, urban workers, students, monks, and civil servants took to streets. Years of frustration and disgust at the failures of the military government to bring development.
        1. Ne Win's decision to declare valueless 80 percent of the Burmese money in circulation. Any kyat note over $1.60 became instantly worthless. (designed to undermine black marketeers and control inflation). But black market was the only functioning market. Savings wiped out.
        2. small incidents led to revolt with deaths escalating into larger demonstrations.
      2. Ne Win agreed to multiparty elections. But Sein Lwin (Butcher) put in charge which set off more demonstrations.
        1. Maung Maung appointed temporarily.
        2. U.S. embassy became symbol of freedom for students
      3. Army Commander-in-Chief General Saw Maung crushed revolt and restored military on September 18, 1988. Mass arrests. 3,000 died.
        1. Establishment of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) Martial law. No foreign journalists or scholars. Human rights violations; forced moving of 500,000 people from their homes.
      4. Despite violations of human rights, SLORC organized May 27, 1990 election to choose legislators to the People's Assembly, the sole legislative authority.
        1. SLORC believed it controlled election. TV time limited to one ten-minute period in campaign. Statements submitted for approval seven days in advance. Now SPDC (State Peace and Development Council).
      5. Aung San Suu Kyi disqualified.
      1. Pro-government parties received funds for campaigning.
        1. However, opposition won 80 percent of the seats. Government party won only 10 of 485.
        2. Months after election military refused to turn government over to the newly elected legislators.
  1. Institutions
    1. Ne Win. Commander of armed forces, prime minister, chairman of the revolutionary council, chairman of only legal party. Power is personal in Burma. Loyalty is to the person, not the institution.
    2. Legislature: People's Assembly elected by people in single member constituencies. Rubber stamp for BSPP.
    3. Tatmadaw = Burmese military claiming to be unifying force in the country.
    4. Burmese Socialist Program Party. Changed name to National Unity Party in 1988.
    5. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, schooled in Burma; England to study at Oxford, published books, no political experience; returned from England to care for ailing mother. Joined opposition, superb orator, large crowds; hair and clothing style copied; placed under house arrest for one year, renewable in 1989. Continued under arrest until the present (1999). Husband, Michael Aris, died in 1999 in England.
    6. Minority Ethnic Groups. Karens, Shans, Kachins, do not trust government; Joined National Democratic Front, an organization of groups in revolt. Seek equality of communities with autonomy. Armed insurgency.
  1. Democratization
    1. No history of democracy except for short period after independence led by U Nu.
    2. Political culture: hierarchical, paternalistic.
    3. Concern for national security.
    4. Strong support for Aung San Suu Kyi as the symbol of democracy.
    5. History of modern governments ruling in their own interest, solely to perpetuate their power.
  1. Economic Development
    1. In 1950s Burma and Thailand had same level of economic development; both Buddhist, similar natural resources.
      1. Burmese colonized by British. Burmese reacted against Western ways.
      2. Burmese isolation (compared to open economy of Thailand)
      3. Socialist versus open economy.
      4. Burmese military poor economic administrators. Thai authorities supported entrepreneurs; Burmese quashed administrators.
      5. In 1999, Burma’s level of economic development one of lowest in Southeast Asia. Military rulers ineffective administrators and developers.

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