Toward Democracy, Human Rights and Federalism

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Burma: The Golden Alternative

Sunday, February 10 2008, 01:23 PM EST
The important thing is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are not calling for abrupt 'regime change' but rather a negotiated settlement taking into account the Burmese military's role, and finally replacing it definitely in not too distant future. In 2006 February, the NLD offered a transition plan which would recognize the military junta as a de jure government for a transition period that would be legitimized by the parliament elected in 1990.

Also in August, 2007, ninety-two elected members of parliament proposed an alternative Road Map offering the SPDC a considerable role in Constitution-drafting and transition processes along with elected NLD and ethnic members of parliament. "Everything is negotiable," Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said. The army is to be retained but the military dictatorship must go, this is the opposition's consensus. The pigheaded generals simply turned down all the proposals. These meaningful proposals are far from those clamors for pointless 'gradual change' advocated by unwitting apologists of the obstinate military junta who has been claiming they are executing gradual change for nineteen years which has only resulted in the massacre of Buddhist monks. The junta's gradual change is in fact no change at all but more bloodshed only.

Burma: The Golden Alternative


As Burma gets into world spotlight with the Saffron Revolution, lots of arguments against democratization are surprisingly heard from many quarters—politicians, statesmen, scholars, so-called Burma experts and even some Burmese in exile who have never set foot on the native soil or who have been out of touch with reality for decades—absurdly claiming that the substitute for the military junta will be, out of all things, the devil's alternative.

One argument is the likelihood of lawlessness, chaos and 'Balkanization' if the junta is gone. So what's the situation now? Isn't there lawlessness already in Burma? The killing of the highest spiritual leaders of the society is the expression of most severe form of lawlessness. On the other hand, the leaders of the Saffron Revolution, the monks, have shown the highest and unrivalled form of discipline and order in the world. Buddhism is renowned for its peace-loving and love-radiating attributes and Burmese monks and the demonstrating people led by them have again proved it. Drug cartels and crime syndicates flourish most under egomaniac despotism. There is no rule of law in Burma; only the words of selfish generals. This is the best culture for crime and chaos.

The self-seeking military junta is the sole cause of chaos and civil war. Incompetent junta's militarization of the country has brought it to 'Least Developed Country' Status in 1987 and, twenty years later, unprecedented chaos, mismanagement and social conflict matched only by few failed states on earth. Now it is trying to implement a so-called Road Map which will without doubt further the degeneration and polarization, producing a military dynasty like Duvalier's Haiti, Kim Il-Sung's North Korea or Assad's Syria after Than Shwe's demise or when the present generation of generals have gone.

On the opposition side, all the main groups have more or less the same major demands or visions. Democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic forces led by the Union Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD) or United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) are united in the Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP) formed in 1998 by major parties elected in 1990. The bond was first brought about through Bo Aung Kyaw Street Declaration in 1990 August. The ceasefire groups are also linked to the UNA and through it to the CRPP which was openly supported by four armed ceasefire groups in 1998. One of the reasons behind the detentions of Khun Tun Oo, leader of the strongest legal Shan political party, and Gen. Hso Ten, leader of the strongest armed Shan (ceasefire) force, in 2005 is that they are the principal influential links between the ethnic ceasefire groups and the CRPP.

In 1990 elections the NLD and the UNLD won 95% of parliamentary seats. The NLD also won in many ethnic areas. During Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's tours in 2003 the largest turnout of support occurred in ethnic states. This is one reason behind the junta's infamous Depayin attack on her. The NLD had also won in military cantonment areas in 1990. The president and vice-president of the NLD are former military generals in addition to many 'enlightened' ex-commanders and soldiers who are now serving in the country's biggest opposition party. So it is evident that democratization will unify rather than balkanize the country.

Underground opposition groups have also achieved important accords in 1992 July through Manerplaw Agreement and in 1997 January through Maethrawhta Agreement which was hailed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a right step towards peace and harmony in future Burma. These pacts are also significant for their agreement to solve any differences among democratic or armed ethnic groups by means of peaceful negotiations and concept of equality.

Almost all the underground ethnic and democratic forces are united inside the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) which comprises of 10 armed ethnic groups, 5 unarmed ethnic or minority groups and 13 democratic or civil society groups (including the exiled-NLD and Students' Army) as well as 34 exiled parliamentarians from the NLD, the pro-military National Unity Party (NUP) and seven ethnic parties elected in 1990. Ethnic groups and democratic or civil society groups outside the NCUB are linked to or interrelated with the latter through exiled-UNLD, Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), Five-Party Military Alliance and Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB).

To bring order during the transitional period the National League for Democracy has a provisional Constitution based to some extent on 1947 Constitution in addition to plans for a second Panglong Conference of all ethnic groups including the Burman majority. The first Panglong Agreement of 1947 had brought understanding among ethnic nationalities of Burma and founded the present Union—though not much in essence. The opposition forces in exile are also working on future constitutions through a highly inclusive and broad-based Federal Constitution Drafting and Co-ordination Committee (FCDCC) and various State Constitution Drafting Committees (SCDCs), extensively smoothing out potential divergences and conflicts.

Unlike Yugoslavia or African countries, more than 2000-year old civilized Burma's history bore no precedence of Balkanization. Bloody religious or racial conflicts common to Yugoslavia or African countries were unheard of. Past wars were caused mainly by feudal monarchs annexing adjacent territories just like feudal rulers of any country in ancient times. Pre- and Post-Independence communal riots were the hangover of colonialist era 'divide and rule' policy. The junta's disinformation on the meaning of federalism has failed among the Burmese people. Burmans who usually turned out victors through military might have now realized the futility of denying other ethnic peoples their rights in accordance with universal norms; the only remaining obstacle being the military junta. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in September 2007 will give a great boost to democratic and ethnic issue in Burma. Another thing to take note is that there are no 135 races in Burma as the junta claims; the true figure is around sixty with most of them less than 50,000 each.

Of course, as in Quebec, Scotland or Flanders, there is and will always be a few who desire secession but majority of each ethnic population only cares for equal rights. Besides, there are no practical means or situation to carry out secession by those who desire it. Even under Prime Minister U Nu in 1958, when ethnics could utilize the Article 140 of the 1947 Constitution to secede legally, no attempt was made but only demands for more rights within the Union framework were presented peacefully and democratically that were but turned down by Ne Win's military junta using brute force.

Armed ethnic groups, particularly ceasefire armies and the people in their territories are basically war-weary. That's why the SPDC is able to coerce and manipulate them. In 1998 September, when some ceasefire groups backed the CRPP in defiance of the junta, local civilian pressure and senior ethnic officers' war-fatigue prompted the groups to back down from war. The concept of non-violence and effects of media which have dominated the world since the end of Cold War have been influencing the armed ethnic groups more than its worth. In Burma, (tripartite) dialogue and non-violence rather than warring are the buzz words.

Balkanization is not the only option in the world; Czechoslovakia had experienced a peaceful 'velvet separation'. Balkanization and anarchy can only be brought about by a freely failing junta which could break apart into multiple rivaling fiefdoms controlled separately by warlord-turned junta generals or Burma army's regional commanders as in post-Siad Barre Somalia, post-Najibullah Afghanistan or post-Mobutu Congo. Unlike them, Burma fortunately has a legitimate and popular democratic leadership well-prepared and highly competent to take over. Burma's opposition leaders—both democratic and ethnic—are undoubtedly more competent, qualified and broad-minded than the junta chiefs. Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, all the atrocities and terror in Burma are work of the SPDC—there are no extremists or terrorists among the opposition. Hence merely checking and removing the SPDC will prevent any further bloodshed.

Presently, junta's senseless or paranoid economic policies are making everyone broke except the generals. Even Singapore's senior statesman Mr. Lee Kuan-yew has dubbed them 'dumb' with regard to economics. No globalization beneficial to the country's people, local businessmen or foreign investors could take hold in Burma. In contrast, the National League for Democracy has been upgrading its leaders and rank-and-file with world level capacity in all issues, anticipating to ride the globalization surf like China and Vietnam. Exiled democratic and ethnic forces are also versed in international efficiencies of peaceful nature after years of training and studying abroad.

The important thing is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are not calling for abrupt 'regime change' but rather a negotiated settlement taking into account the Burmese military's role, and finally replacing it definitely in not too distant future. In 2006 February, the NLD offered a transition plan which would recognize the military junta as a de jure government for a transition period that would be legitimized by the parliament elected in 1990. Also in August, 2007, ninety-two elected members of parliament proposed an alternative Road Map offering the SPDC a considerable role in Constitution-drafting and transition processes along with elected NLD and ethnic members of parliament. "Everything is negotiable," Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said. The army is to be retained but the military dictatorship must go, this is the opposition's consensus. The pigheaded generals simply turned down all the proposals. These meaningful proposals are far from those clamors for pointless 'gradual change' advocated by unwitting apologists of the obstinate military junta who has been claiming they are executing gradual change for nineteen years which has only resulted in the massacre of Buddhist monks. The junta's gradual change is in fact no change at all but more bloodshed only.

Engagement with the junta has also been called or initiated by many countries including ASEAN, China and Japan who only got its reporter Mr. Nagai killed from close range gunshot during the Saffron Revolution. There has been the Chilston Park seminar in the UK favoring engagement as well. All these has resulted in more deadly militarization with more refugees and more migrants to neighboring countries not to say of diseases, forced labor, rape and more IDPs in the country.

So what can you expect from shoring up a junta that is prepared to kill the most revered section of the nation at the country's holiest shrine on a full-moon day which is regarded as a holy day in Buddhism? Will it be moral or feasible to maintain the status quo or engage with this kind of junta to prevent an imaginary and improbable Balkanization and chaos? To prevent such a scenario there is no other way rather than to replace the regime with the opposition who has people's mandate, through the road map initiated by the latter.

Gamanii
The writer is a former student activist and political prisoner of 1974-1975 and then joined an ethnic armed groups and spent twenty years in the jungle fighting the military regime. Now, he is working for Burma's exiled government (NCGUB). He has written many articles on Burma. He is an Inthar, an ethnic minority group in Shan State of Burma.

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