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The Effect Of Military Regime History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Myanmar is generally regarded as the most durable military regime worldwide. Soon after the country obtained independence from Great Britain in 1948, the military became the most powerful institution in the country with a huge impact on society and economy. Although Myanmar was ruled by civilian government of U Nu right after its independence, the democracy in Myanmar faced many problems and came into an end in 1962 when General Ne Win led the military coup against the elected government. Because there were a lot of insurgencies after the departure of the British, the military initiated a rapid modernization of the armed forces that overtook the institutional development of Myanmar. After that Myanmar was ruled under a direct military regime.

This paper is aimed to provide a closer look to the military regime in Myanmar and to identify the effects of the military regime to Myanmar society.

How did the military intervene in Myanmar politics?

Why did the military decided to coup against the civilian government of U Nu in 1962?

At the time, why did people welcome the military coup?

Did the military successfully fulfill its promises to the local people?

Did the military leaders help Myanmar develop its economy?

What were the reactions from regional and international community to the military government of Myanmar?

How did the economic sanction from the US and EU effect Myanmar economy?

How have human rights in Myanmar being affected?

It is important to do this research because learning about military regime could help us to have an in-sight and accurate view of it. Without doing research, people tend to misunderstand, and therefore, tend to give slightly bias judgment of it. Doing this research can give us an accurate advantages and disadvantages of military regime, and with this case of Myanmar, it is significant to learn about its mistakes– the mistakes which are the reasons leading to Myanmar condition nowadays.

Military’s Intervention in Myanmar Politics

The Myanmar military has been deeply involved in politics since the country’s independence from Great Britain in 1948. Because the military was formed in 1942 which preceded the country’s independence, and also the officer corps were politicized as a liberating force during the struggle for national independence, the army could assume the role of the guardian of Myanmar state. Although the 1947 Constitution established a democratic system of government and the military accepted civilian supremacy, the army was able to gradually expand its political role. That was because of the outbreak of ethnic and communist rebellions after the departure of the British which led to the institutional modernization of the armed force. In 1958, because of the split in the ruling party Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League (AFPFL), which caused from increasing factionalism within the party, there was a growing instability in the parliamentary system. The officer corps feared that the split could also weaken the army’s unity. Then General Ne Win urged the civilian government of Prime Minister U Nu to temporarily transfer power to the armed forces (“Caretaker Government”, 1958-1960).

During this period, the officer corps developed a belief that it was more effective than its civilian counterparts. They defined the role of the military in broad national security terms as being responsible for the defense of the national objectives of establishing “peace and the rule of law”, “democracy” and a “socialist economy” (Myoe, 2008). The military also expanded its business activities into the banking sector, construction industry, and fishing, which made it the most powerful business organization in Myanmar. In February1960, the “Caretaker Government” handed the power to the civilian government back; however, in March 1962, General Ne Win staged a coup against the government and seized for full power. The reason for the coup was that the military wanted to save the country from disintegration because the government of U Nu decided to make Buddhism the state religion, and also gave the ethnic groups the rights to secede from Myanmar (Church, 2006). General Ne Win believed that we could unite the country by using military power. The coup was welcomed by a lot of people because it promised to put an end to the corruption, instability, inflation, and social unrest which occurred under the previous civilian government. However, it turned out completely different from what the people wished.

After taking control of the power, the military prevented the emergence of any autonomous centers of influence. The coup abolished the 1947 Constitution, dissolved parliament and federal structure, banned and arrested all political and ethnic minority leaders. The country was ruled by a Revolutionary Council which was created by General Ne Win and was formed entirely by coup officers loyal to him. Besides, the military government nationalized the economy under the banner of the “Burmese Way to Socialism” which brought economic independence to the country by reducing any influences from the outside world.

The military coup set up its own Leninist party, the Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). The military became the backbone of Myanmar, in which General Ne Win was both party chairman and president. He controlled his power by keeping his subordinates divided and controlled all potential rivals by forcing them to leave the positions and by using violence. The cabinets and rubber stamp parliaments were dominated by active and retired military officers. However, this military-backed, socialist one-party regime started to crumble from within in 1987, when the country was facing a severe economic crisis. In 1987 the World Bank had given the country the status of Least Developed Country. The crisis led to many massive student protests in 1988, and the protests escalated into a broad-based, countrywide democracy movement. The military brutally cracked down on the movement, killing thousands of students and teachers. Because of the demonstration, General Ne Win resigned as party chairman in 1988. However, the new government, which was the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), reestablished direct military rule on 18 August 1988 with behind-the-scene power of General Ne Win. After seizing power, the junta under the leadership of Saw Maung promised to hold multiparty election because he believed that he would win the election. However, the military council failed to acknowledge the results of the May 1990 elections, which ended in a landslide victory for the oppositional party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The military justified their actions by saying that Myanmar at the time lacked a constitution for transferring power to a new government. Members and leaders of the opposition parties including NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, were imprisoned and put under house arrest over the last two decades. And some others had to flee the country because of military persecution.

After 1990 the military planned for a state-building program, which has focused on modernizing the country’s infrastructure, and negotiating a series of ceasefires with ethnic minority groups. In 1997 the military renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in order to tell the people that it was then tried to create peace and development for Myanmar. However, there was no sign that the military would lessen its political power nor its repression of the NLD and other political opponents.

The military formally accepted a market economy after 1990 under its economic liberalization policy. However, the economy of the country has remained completely under the control of the state over the last two decades. Moreover, after 1988 the military expanded its business activities and economic bases. It built up the most important business companies in the country such as the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Cooperation (MEC). Those companies were given licenses in many business fields such as construction, gem and jade extraction, tourism, transport, hotels and agriculture. The military was the most important business actor in Myanmar.

The Effects of the Military rule

International communities have had a strong reaction to Myanmar. US forbids all imports from Myanmar to US, extends the existing visa ban, halts assets owned by the regime in the U.S and legislates Washington’s opposition to loans or other assistance for Myanmar from the international financial institutions, in 2003. The most negative impact of US sanction on Myanmar economy is the damaging of garment industry because US used to be the most important garment market, which Myanmar cold exported its garment with no quotas. Even though now do its garment business with south Korean and Japan, they’re still not a big garment market like US. Moreover US not only put pressure on Myanmar but also all the regional countries to disapprove the military regime; even though President Bush in October 2003 agreed to a request to avoid more pressure until regional countries had had an opportunity to negotiate with Yangon from Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The European Union (EU) have not put much pressure compares to US; it has just forced the limited measures already threatened in its Common Position of April 2003. Some member states prefer tougher economic sanctions, but others are worried about the legality of trade embargoes against a member of the World Trade Organization. Australia has postponed some of its activities in Myanmar, including its human rights training program, but refusing economic punishment, which Foreign Minister Alexander Downer believed would not much affect Myanmar. At the beginning, Japan immobilized an increasing aid program, but has restarted providing for ongoing projects step by step.

Myanmar has got more warning from the regional government. ASEAN and even China remarkably has changed their attitudes to forward at this military country. June 2003, the ten ASEAN foreign ministers called for the prompt release of Aung San Suu Kyi and a tranquil transition to democracy, and decided to appoint a triumvirate to Yangon to search what the Association might do to help Myanmar draft a new constitution, but the proposed triumvirate was cancelled when Yangon rejected. The Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad even recommended Myanmar could be excluded from ASEAN as a last action.

The conflicts which are the main factor, creating the political and economic tension have divided society and impoverished the state since independence. Many conflicts occurred while the military rule was main funder and also an outcome, which continue to be a major barrier to democratization. The current struggle over political power reflects long-standing civil-military disputes, as well as overarching ethnic conflict. There is also evidence of extreme tensions at the local level, reinforced by religious differences and struggles over scarce resources.

The fight for power between the military government and the pro-democracy opposition happened since the immediate independence period. While the army fought against communist and ethnic nationalist guerrillas in the jungle, the politicians just struggled for personal power, which caused several separations in the ruling Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League. Most generals still believe that politicians don’t have enough army’s unity and patriotism; they don’t want NLD lead the government. Thus, there is no real negotiation between these two parties, and the civil-military conflicts still continue.

Myanmar is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Asia; the conflicts between every significant ethnic group and central government have had since 1948. Some ethnic nationalist armies may agree to sign a ceasefire with government but most of them still rejected the ceasefire, so no sustainable solutions have been made. Furthermore, masses of illegal activities which can’t be control by government in the border areas where most of minority ethnic groups live, including drug production, human trafficking and smuggling of small arms. It seriously threatens to stability, mainly in the far-off Eastern Shan State and also establishes a significant difficulty to political and economic liberalization, which would danger the illegal economy and the corrupt patronage networks sustaining it.

In Myanmar’s society, the racial, ethnic and religious tensions run high; many people in Myanmar feel strongly similar with their own group against outsiders, and biases against other groups are often strong. The conflicts between insiders and outsiders are often fuelled by Pervasive noticeable improvement over difficult economic conditions and feeling of the absence of any real prospect for change. Since 2001, the religious violence between Buddhists and Muslims that has shocked several main towns and even the cruelness of the attack on NLD supporters on 30 May 2003, all shows these tensions.

Humanitarian situation is serious; Myanmar, a naturally rich country, is today the poorest in Asia. A lot of people are living below the poverty line. Malnutrition is widespread; children get a low education; HIV infection rates are the worst among Asia countries and rise quickly. Most of countryside meets serious ecological problems resulting in decreasing harvests, and increasing migration, so emerging famine conditions in the worst affected areas was alerted by some economists. Tens of thousands of people in Yangon and the main urban areas who have just become jobless felt unhappy because of a recent banking crisis and the new U.S. sanctions, but the disturbance of trade and shortages of supplies and price variations occur even in remote villages. The seriousness of the conflicts separating Myanmar society and the complex crises that flow from them can scarcely be exaggerated. Since independence, in unseen wars in the jungle, not least than a million people have died that continue to kill people every month, and millions of people have tolerated miserable lives with no opportunities to develop for their lives. While pro-democracy forces blame it on military rule, the general officers consider it as excuse for centralizing state power and limiting human rights. In the meantime, the basis for a peaceful transition is being destabilized by its weakening political, social and economic conditions.


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