Burma was once under the control of British, during its colonial rule. It was also once a part of India. But Burma gained independent from India in 1937, and the Burmese National Army, led by Aung San, fought together with the Japanese in order to drive out the British during World War 2. But after realizing that the Japanese were trying to take over their country, he fought against the Japanese. During Burma’s first election, Aung San won the election with his party, the People's Freedom League, which aimed to set up a parliamentary democracy government. Although he was later assassinated, Burma gained independence in 1948 and was declared to be the Union of Burma. Burmese people in areas which were close to the borders of the new Union of Burma wanted to these areas to be part of Burma too, as they places were rich in teak and gems. When their demands were rejected, they staged rebellions. It came to an end when the UN used their army to restore peace.
But this peace did not last for long; the constitution was abolished during a coup by General Ne Win. The Burma Socialist Programme Party put the country on the path to socialism; hence there were no free elections for 26 years. On 8th August 1988, there were thousands of university students protesting against the harsh rule of the socialist. The government responded with violence, killing many of the protesters. This led to another coup announced by the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Burma was thrown into a state of emergency, and more deaths occurred. An election was held in 1989 and the National League of Democracy was set up. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is daughter of Aung San, was elected as the leader of the party. Being the daughter of a well-known independence crusader, her party gained 80% of the seats. However, the ruling government nullified the results and refused to hand over power, and put her under house arrest. She was once released in 1995 and won the Nobel Peace Prize, but she was again arrested in 2000. After negotiations with the government, she was released again in 2002. There was another coup in 2004 and the government was taken over by General Soa Win.
Issues in Burma
The largest ethnic group in Burma is the Bamar which makes up about 68% of the whole population. The Shan and Kayin make up about 10% and 7% of the population respectively. However, these ethnic groups are only a proportion of the 135 ethnics groups recognized by the government. Burma is considered to be one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. This is one of the main reasons that unrest is so observed often in the country.
In August 2007, there were peaceful, pro-democracy protests by citizens and monks against the government and to oppose the current military regime. However the government put down the protests with violence. No media was allowed in the country, and news sites were blocked. Communication was completely cut down. The ethnic minorities in the country lived in constant fear after the army burnt down their villages. This turned the world’s attention on the country; and many organizations voiced objection towards the government’s violent crackdown on the protesters.
Structure of GovernmentBurma’s leader is the military junta, which means that the military has the control of the government. After the military coup in 1988, the constitution was suspended. Although there was an election held after the junta took over, the result of the election was not recognized by the government. The convention was reconvened in 2004, but in the absence of their primary opposition party in the country, the National League for Democracy, as well as other minor parties. The highest organ in the country has been the State Peace and Development Council ever since the military coup. The Senior General Than Shwe is the chairman and also the head of state. Having been a British colony, the country has preserved some of British’s legal systems, but the regime now rules by decree so it might be a fair one.
Although there are other parties in the country, they are not treated fairly. Most leaders of the opposition parties are either imprisoned or put under house arrest to prevent them from going against the government. This has created fear amongst the people and thousands of people have quit their parties. Although the National League for Democracy won the election, but the convention was never convened.
Level of development
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the past under British’s colonial rule, after years of chaos, it is currently one of the poorest countries and has a growth rate of 2.9% in the economy, one of the slowest in the world. The country’s economy has suffered during the BSPP’s “Burmese Way to Socialism”, where the economy was under strict government control. After the coup in 1988 and when people regained confidence in Burma’s economy, the government did not honor the results of the election. This caused foreign investors to withdraw their money from Burma, and the U.S.A imposed sanctions against Burma. The government often gave fake statistics to the public and cancelled the reform which had been pushing through for the past few years. But there is a more serious problem in the country, inflation; it is indeed an obstacle for the economy to grow. Currently in Burma, there is a lack of infrastructure like railways and roads, which are necessary for trade to take place. Due to the ongoing protest against the government, investors can hardly be confident about investing in the country. This lack of investment has hindered Burma’s economic growth.
Will political structure of Burma work in other countries?
At the beginning after the military coup in 1998, many observers believed that Burma could become the first Asian Tiger in the region. However when the military government nullified the election results, people started to dislike the dictatorship rule in the country. So it is unlikely that any country in the world would like to have a military junta controlling the country. In a military government, it is very likely that the government will use violence against the protests. It is unlikely that any country would want this kind of government to be in control, as seen from the poverty of the people in Burma.
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