Burma Under a Dictatorship
Ne Win’s new Revolutionary Coucil suspended the constitution and instituted authoritarian military rule. Full attention turned to the military defeat of communist and ethnic-minority rebel groups. The country was closed off from the outside world as the new despot promoted an isolation ideology based on what he called the Burmese Way to Socialism.
Superstitious, xenophobic and ruthless, for the next three decades Ne Win set a thriving nation on a disatrious path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were few and restricted to Rangoon, Mandalay and a handful of other tightly controlled towns close to the central plains. Insurgency remained endemic and in many areas of Burma armed struggle became a way of life.
The People’s Demands Are Met With Bullets
In July 1988 Ne Win suddenly announced that he was preparing to leave the stage. Seeing at last a possible escape from military rule, economic decline and routine human rights abuses, thousands of people took to the streets of Rangoon. Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called “Democracy Summer” that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.
Thousands of students and democracy advocates fled to the border regions under ethnic control and forged alliances with ethnic resistance movements. Some of these groups include the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the All Burma Student Democratic Front, the Democratic Alliance of Burma, and the longstanding National Democratic Front situated in Manerplaw (the former headquarters of the Karen National Union which fell to SLORC in January 1995). Together these groups formed the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella organization representing all the groups.
A Leader Emerges
It just so happened that during this time of unrest in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, who had been living abroad, returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Her devotion kept her there and brought her into the political foray. Attempting to quell international condemnation for its violence, the military announced it would hold multi-party elections. Under the persuasion of students and others opposed to the regime, Aung San Suu Kyi and like-minded colleagues founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her party quickly gathered country-wide support. Just when democratic changes seemed imminent Ne Win commandeered the army from behind the scenes to take over the country in a staged “coup”.
On September 18, 1988, control of the country was handed to a 19-member State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and a vicious crackdown followed. Although committed to non-violence, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989 for “endangering the state” and kept there for the next six years. Desperate to improve their image and generate foreign investment, the SLORC went ahead on May 27, 1990 and held the multi-party elections they had promised. Despite the SLORC’s severe repression against members of opposition parties (Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest) and the complete lack of freedom of expression throughout the country, Suu Kyi’s NLD party swept to victory with 82% of the vote. Surprised and outraged, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the election results and has retained its repressive grip on power ever since.
Even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May of 2002 the military has refused to relinquish power. The generals have not engaged in any sort of dialogue. The humanitarian situation in Burma is disasterous and civil war still ravages the border areas. The effect of military rule has been a severly impoverished and underdevelopmed nation, Burma has rated as the second least developed nation on the United Nations Development Index. Peace, democracy and the most basic human rights do not exist. Millions have been forced to flee due to military rule and are scattered all over the world longing for the day when they can return to their homeland and be re-united with the families and live in peace.
Canadian Friends of Burma.