Jan 2nd, 2009
This year, this very new year, 2009 is a critical year before the ultimate year of 2010 comes along.
The military regime wants to manage a complete fatal blow to the pro-democracy movement in 2010. They hope that their planned self-declaration of victory in 2010 elections will be the end of everything. The military strongmen through their puppet civilian government will rule Burma happily ever after, they hope.
General Than Shwe’s new skin
2090 is a critical year for the regime to get everything done as far as possible in their power to clear the field for 2010 elections. They know they cannot go on for ever as an illegitimate de-facto military regime; they are virtually the one and the only remaining military government in the twenty-first century world.
Even the Chinese Communist government is showing more respect for democracy and Human-rights than the Burmese military regime does. China has change of Presidents every eight years, and they have regular local elections; and, even the internet users in China have more freedom than those in Burma. And response by Chinese government to natural disasters in their country is clearly better than that by the Burmese military regime. And with the rapidly growing economy, Chinese people can at least enjoy economic prosperity despite the lack of political freedom. If the saying is true that “Something is better than nothing”, people of China are faring far better than people of Burma, although both countries are ruled by authoritarian governments.
So, Burmese regime knows that they MUST change, at least their skin. But, they cannot give up their power. Senior General Than Shwe, the current Burmese military Supremo, knows too well what happens when a military strongman lose his power in Burma, as he himself has crafted the ugly fates for his predecessors, General Ne Win (who died under house-arrest while many of his favoured family members are facing death sentences) and General Saw Maung (who allegedly died as a wretched madman). Than Shwe family is living like a Royal family in Burma, and they are unimaginably rich with billions of dollars stashed away in their secret bank-accounts in foreign banks. Than Shwe has frequently ranked as top human-rights abuser in various international indexes; and attempts are afoot to try to get him indicted at International Criminal Court, albeit still a long way to go. As Than Shwe cannot give up power_ his power is the only reliable protection for his and his family’ fortunes_ and cannot keep power as the world’s only remaining military ruler, he will make a complete change in the appearances. There is NO alternative.
So, the regime will make sure that Burma gets a constitution passed in a referendum and a civilian government elected in an election, but at the same time keeping power effectively in military’s hands. Now, they have already got a pro-military constitution which gives 25% of seats in the parliament to the unelected hand-picked military officers and allows the military to remain as a totally independent state within the State and also grants immunity to the de-facto military regime for all the crimes they have committed previously. And the constitution was passed in a referendum which was held amidst the chaos of Cyclone Nargis disaster which killed more than 100,000 people. And the regime just conveniently declared that their pro-military constitution got an illogical approval figure of more than 95% in the referendum! One cannot help but remember that Saddam Hussein used to get more than 95% votes in his elections.
Now, the regime is preparing the field for the 2010 elections. All pro-democracy activists who count have now been safely locked away behind bars serving 60-80 years prison sentences. Even their lawyers have been jailed, effectively making it very difficult for them to get any more legal help for their appeals.
While the regime is gaining momentum along their roadmap towards a fake democracy in Burma, the opposition groups are in TOTAL disarray now.
The National League for Democracy, the main pro-democracy party founded by people’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is suffering from an identity crisis and a sticky dilemma. With Aung San Suu Kyi under a seemingly endless house-arrest and almost all other strong activists in jail, the party is left in the care of a group of elderly caretaker leaders (some of them almost 90 years old now!) who were themselves military generals before they were sacked from the army by the former military strongman General Ne Win. For a long time serious discontent has been brewing up among younger generation party activists regarding their elderly leaders’ lack of action and apparent indecision. In earlier 2008 it appeared that the party was going to boycott the constitutional referendum, but the leaders decided just shortly before the referendum to take part and to make a “Vote NO” campaign; however, by then, it has already become too late for the grass-root followers of the party to effectively launch a “Vote NO” campaign against the powerful and ruthless military machinery hell-bent on getting a “YES” vote for their pro-military constitution. Now there is a talk about changing the old-guard of the party with newer generations. With or without a new leadership, the party still faces another indecisive situation concerning 2010 elections. Previously it was supposed to be a total boycott on the elections, but later it appeared the party would take part if regime agrees to make some roll backs on the pro-military constitution, and very recently it has just become that the leadership is still considering the pros and cons of taking part in the election and no decision has yet been made. One just cannot help feeling a déjà vu.
And there is a rift between the Washington-based exile/rival pro-democracy government, aka National Coalition Government of Union of Burma NCGUB, and Thai-Burma border based National Council of Union of Burma NCUB. Although the middle “G” is the only difference in the abbreviations of their names, the two leading exile organizations lately seem to be having different opinions on almost everything. They could not agree on the credential challenge against military regime at the UN General Assembly, they could not agree on the extension of the existing exile government, and their surrogates are shooting ugly character-killing accusations against each other through internet forums, blogs and mail groups. And now the NCUB has made it clear in their 2009 New Year statement that they will form a new exile government, apparently with or without agreement from the existing exile government NCGUB. But one question remaining is, with what kind of mandate the new exile government(s) is(are) to be formed.
A culture of split, rift and disunity is nowadays seen, sadly, not just among the elite exile leaders, but it is also rampant through out the entire rank and file of the entire exile movement. The once esteemed leading student activists in exile now seem to have given up their fight against military regime and concentrating most of their energies on mud-slinging and smearing campaigns against each other on the internet, sometimes stooping as low as distributing slur emails using fake identities or creating blogs which are dedicated for insulting each other but for nothing else. The exile branch in Malaysia of Burma’s National League for Democracy is having a noxious in-fighting between its Kuala Lumpur-based office and its Penang-based office, accusing each other of funds misappropriation and collaboration with military regime. The dissidents in Japan are accusing each other of facilitating fake asylum claims. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few examples to reflect the current situation of internal mess and tangles.
The strongest supporter on Burmese pro-democracy movement, the USA, is going to get a more diplomatic and less warrior-like new administration very soon. The US economy is facing the worse crisis in almost a century. And the mighty American military is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Europe is also suffering from a similarly bad credit crunch. Moreover, Europe has never been keen on getting tough on Burmese military regime; as long as the Total Oil Company is investing in Burma, EU’s leading member, the French, will just talk tough on every possible occasion, only to take the lime light, but actually avoiding any tough action or sanctions on the military regime of Burma.
UN Special Envoy has lost virtually all his credibility because of his failure to be impartial, but instead accommodating too much to the military generals. He is now saying that the international community should give money to Burmese military generals in the form of developmental aids to buy freedom of political prisoners from regime’s prisons. If his plans ever come to fruition, it will just encourage the regime to create more and more political prisoners to get more and more ransom money from the international community.
Like the maggots which thrive in rubbish and filth, military regime strives better amidst chaos. It enjoyed holding a constitutional referendum while almost the entire lower half of the country was submerged in post-cyclone floods and commotions. Chaotic conditions give them better chance to practise their tricks of vote-rigging and voter-intimidation to get their desired results in referendum and elections. The international community’s economic turmoil, the confusion inside Burma’s National League for Democracy and the unruliness among Burmese exiles will just give the military regime an ideal chance in 2009 to unleash all their hoax and scam and deception and dirty tricks to lay the grounds for a coalition of pro-regime pro-military parties to win an unnatural near 100% landslide in 2010 elections.
So taking everything into consideration, and barring a miracle, there is very little to NIL chance of the opposition turning the tide in 2009 and stopping the regime in the tracts along their roadmap towards a puppet democracy system in Burma.
After declaring victory in 2010 elections the regime may take a while before making an ultimate change of shape and becoming a civilian government. They need to craft a smooth transition, i.e., an apparent transfer of virtual power but not the actual transfer of real power. Than Shwe may become the civilian President himself leaving a trusted subordinate as the military commander-in-chief, or he may remain as military commander-in-chief himself while installing a faithful surrogate as the civilian President.
Probably, the new form of administration, whatever it might be, may become up and running in 2011.
Regime’s hope for an end-game
Regime hopes that when a civilian administration is up and running after 2010 elections, the international community will forget all about the past, also ignore all the deficiencies of the new civilian administration, and start doing business with Burma. Sanctions will be lifted, visa-bans will be removed, investments will flow in, World Bank will come back will new loan offers, the opposition will become dead and buried, international community will lost their interest in any remnants of the pro-democracy movement; Than Shwe dynasty will rule on for ever in Burma, albeit in a new form of incarnation which is more acceptable to international taste.
The End is also the Beginning
In the endless cycles of history, an end is simultaneously a new beginning.
Of course, there is very little logical argument left to say that the regime has not won the struggle which started with the 8888 people-power uprising and reaching the peak in the pro-democracy parties’ landslide victory in 1990 elections.
Even now the UN, the EU, many Western governments, all donor agencies and NGOs are charting their plots to resume business fully with the new administration, which ever form it may take, after 2010 elections in Burma. In the eyes of many international governments and organizations, the significance of the prodemocracy movement and the opposition groups is rapidly fading and diminishing. When the World fully re-engages with whatever administration in Burma after 2010, the opposition groups may no longer play any role, sadly, in the World’s business plans with Burma.
But all is not lost yet for the opposition groups. They can, and should, still play a part in the affairs of post-2010 Burma. How?
There is a proverbial aphorism in Burma that ‘all the peas coming from the same basket tend to be of the same quality and have the same flaws’. The new administration in post-2010 Burma, a direct descendant from the world top human right abuser military regime, will bear the same traits of corruption, nepotism, ineptitude, disrespect to human rights, oppression on basic freedoms, indifference to people’s sufferings and the intolerance to any form of dissent or criticism; and above all else, the abhorrent army will still be as powerful as ever, as arrogant as ever and may even remain above the law as ever.
So starting from 2011, as soon as the new administration comes into force, the opposition’s duty will be to monitor the new administration’s actions, and to make a detail list of its failures and wrongdoings. And once a good thorough list of the new administration’s evils and wrongdoings has been comprehensively complied, the opposition may launch a new movement against the new but equally shoddy and depraved administration.
The international community may also need to try to learn a lesson from how former strongman Ne Win tricked the people of Burma and the world by transferring power from him (General Ne Win) to himself (President Mr Ne Win) forming a fake civilian government consisting solely of ex-military officers, going on stealing all the wealth from Burma and transforming her from a richest country in South east Asia to a poorest country in the world within about 30 years of his rule in various different shapes and forms (1958-1988).
So, a word of humble advice to the opposition is – not to look back and regret on the last 20 years’ innumerable missed opportunities, but to look beyond 2010 and start plotting and planning on how to raise a fresh new movement to hold the post-2010 administration accountable. Of course, a new movement will need new spirits, new generation leaders and activists, new approaches and new visions.
– by Thuria Tayza