On Recent People’s Protest in Myanmar

Myanmar is again in turbulence. Myanmar military force Tatmadaw has once again taken control of the governmental power of the country in a coup on 1 February 2021, ousting the democratically elected government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi, other NLD leaders and government officials have also been arrested. But this coup has not been accepted by the democracy-loving people of Myanmar. Disdaining all intimidation and coercive action of the military, people’s protests are swelling throughout the country. Thousands of Myanmar citizens comprising all sections of suffering people – students, teachers, youth, women, workers, peasants – are taking to the streets every day. On 7 February2020,  tens of thousands of people rallied against the military coup in Yangon demanding the release of elected leaders, revocation of military dictatorship and restoration of democracy. With every passing day, the movement is gaining momentum. The right-thinking international community has also vehemently condemned such an undemocratic autocratic move by the military and expressed its solidarity with the legitimate protest movement by the Myanmar people. 

Backdrop of the current movement

It is pertinent to mention that in the last election held in November 2020, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Suu Kyi had a landslide victory against the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Alleging that widespread fraud was perpetuated in the election and blaming the government of not acting on their claims of fraud, the military junta has justified the seizing of power by coup, although the election commission and different national and international media and agencies have confirmed that no evidence of fraud was detected.

Incidentally, the country’s 2008 Constitution has granted the Armed forces advantageous position in national politics. The Constitution allows the Tatmadaw to occupy, without election, 25% or 166 seats of the 644 seats in the national Parliament, leaving remaining 476 seats to be contested in the elections and administer the three most important ministries – Home, Defence and Border Affairs. The Constitution also granted veto power to military junta over constitutional changes. Riding on such constitutional provisions which clearly kept a provision for backdoor route for the army to usurp power, the military has dislodged an elected government and taken control of the country. Although military has said they were assuming control for one year under emergency powers and promised to hold fresh election in a year and hand over the power to the new democratically elected government, people are refusing to believe that, given the past experience they have with the Tatmadaw.

Half-baked and truncated nationalist movement

To have a correct understanding of the turn of events, it is necessary to briefly recall the history of Myanmar. Myanmar (erstwhile Union of Burma) achieved its political independence from the British imperialist regime on 4 January 1948 following an anti-imperialist freedom movement led by the nationalist leaders, prominent among whom was General Aung San.  However, before the Union of Burma gained independence and emerged as a sovereign bourgeois capitalist state, different ethnic insurgent groups, military officers including nationalist leaders carrying on armed struggle for independence, prominent among whom was General Aung San, being the dominating forces. Butlater on, Aung San joined the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), the civilian movement and a broad platform attempting to unite all divisive political forces, all the insurgent ethnic groups for bringing them altogether under one umbrella. They even tried to mobilize all the rival ethnic groups under the banner ofa single paramilitary organization called People’s Volunteer Organization (PVO).But while attempting so, the AFPFL leadership were reported to have compromised with the different divisive social forces enfeebling the struggle to some extent. Aung San was assassinated in July 1947.

As we know, when the national freedom movement was being conducted in Myanmar, historically the world had entered into the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution. Hence, at that time world capitalism had lost its progressive role and turned into a reactionary force. So, the bourgeoisie of the countries of the Indian sub-continent and other Asian-African countries, engaged in anti-colonial struggle had lost its vigour, and,  haunted by the fear-complex of anti-capitalist proletarian revolution, they tried to develop and assume power through compromises with both feudalism and imperialism. Hence, the bourgeois democratic revolution and nation building process of all these countries, including ours, ended in a half-baked and truncated condition. Like India, the British imperialists also handed over power to the compromising bourgeoisie of Myanmar. In this backdrop, though Myanmar was established as a sovereign capitalist state, its particular socio-political scenario was marked by political instability.

How could Tatmadaw come into the picture

Also noteworthy is the fact that since the armed forces known as the Tatmadaw backed by the emerging capitalist class of Burma, played an important role in the independence struggle of Burma, now Myanmar, the Army had gained people’s respect in independent Burma at the initial stage and was perceived to be a  protector of the political independence and democratic structure. In 1958, a split within the AFPFL threatened to provoke a coup. In order to settle the situation the then government was compelled to invite the military to form a caretaker government which took over the power on 27 October 1958. Thus began the tradition of military rule under the cover of constitutional framework in Myanmar. The caretaker government initially proceeded following the path of its predecessor. It tried to contain corruption, improve bureaucratic efficiency, and managed to deal with the local separatist armies. During this period there were some democratic reforms in the form of giving rights to the citizen to elect and to stand for election. After the election in 1960, a civilian government was formed. But that also failed to solve and improve the situation and the process of national integration was endangered. This gave a handle to the military to stage a coup on 2 March 1962 in the name of protecting the country’s integrity.  The 1962 coup led to the end of democratic form of government and the beginning of direct military rule in Burma that lasted for the next 26 years till 1988.The ruling capitalist class of Myanmar preferred the military rule to serve their purpose of consolidating capitalism as smoothly as possible under a stable, strong government.  It was their class urge that brought the military in power and helped it remain there.

Emergence of Suu Kyi as de facto leader

In the meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Gen Aung San, had gained immense popularity and emerged as the people’s de facto leader for her dedicated efforts to reinstate democratic rule in the country. Sensing her growing acceptance among the people, the military had kept her under house arrest for 15 long years since 1989. But under people’s pressure, Suu Kyi was released in 2010. Suu Ki, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991 while under house arrest and hailed as “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless”,

With the passage of time, the autocratic face of the military junta was exposed and people’s protest began to erupt to end the military regime. In 2011, the military junta rule was officially dissolved following a 2010 general election, and a nominally civilian government was installed. Myanmar began a series of democratic reforms in 2011 which the army called “discipline-flourishing democracy.” The army accepted some kind of democracy under pressure from both Myanmar as well as global public opinion. Then in 2015 general election, NLD led by Suu Kyi won comfortably and assumed power with a larger majority. The army did not object to her ascendancy to governmental power and there were some murmurs about Suu Kyi having struck a deal with the army. Despite her huge victory in 2015, the Myanmar constitution forbade her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals. But Suu Kyi was widely seen as de facto leader and her official title was state counsellor.

Suu Kyi faced criticism for her support to crackdown on Rohingyas

But she has faced international criticism for her compromising response to a violent crackdown by military security forces against the Rohingyas, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, suffering from increasing oppression and persecution. In 2017 hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh due to an army crackdown sparked by an attack on police stations in the Rakhine state. Ms Suu Kyi’s defence of the military over the widely condemned crackdown lost much of the international support and reputation as a staunch defender of human rights she had received. UN investigators determined that the violent campaign of arson, rape and murder was carried out with genocidal intent. But Suu Kyi has publicly rejected accusations that the military waged a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya. When two Reuter journalists who had been investigating secret execution of 10 Rohingya persons were sent to jail, Suu Kyi did not object to the arrest of the scribes but instead had accused them of breaking the Official Secrets Act before the verdict had even been delivered.

People’s democratic aspirations manifest in anti-military-rule protest

Yet, as against military rule, people rallied behind her for firming up democratic rule in the country. Because, fifty years of military rule have failed to give any benefit to the Myanmar people, rather ruined them, pushing them into acute unemployment, poverty, hunger, malnutrition, deprivation of even the basic needs of life. Human rights have not only been denied, but drastically violated. This capitalist state has sharply shredded the basic democratic rights of the common citizens. The people of Myanmar have all through these five decades valiantly fought against the military autocratic rule facing bulldozer of brutal suppression, suffering immense torture, innumerable casualties. Thousands of them mysteriously disappeared and were feared murdered clandestinely.  Hundreds of thousands of protestors, including leaders, and cadres are still languishing in jails.  A suffocative situation shorn of any civic rights, liberties and democratic rights prevailed there. But nothing could debar them from their struggle for democracy.  They rose in protest time and again. Even when a non-military government was in place, there was hardly any abatement of the capitalist oppression in every sphere of life.

Emancipation lies in revolutionary overthrow of capitalism

But what they need to understand is that in decadent moribund capitalism, fascist autocracy has become a common feature in every country, whatsoever is the nature of governance. They also need to take cognizance of the fact that even if a government in the capitalist system under supervision of an honest bourgeois leader takes over, it cannot remain insulated from the aberrations of the system. The form of governance might change, but not the class rule of the bourgeoisie or the exploitative bourgeois state. Sooner or later, cracks would start appearing. Because it would not be anything other than a government under the capitalist system and hence it cannot but serve the class interest of the ruling bourgeoisie and hence might also be in support of inhuman acts as was the case with Suu Kyi when it came to the question of persecution and killings of hapless Rohingyas.

It is to be understood that the oppression and exploitation of toiling people in any capitalist country cannot eradicated without putting an end to capitalism, and finding or creating a correct revolutionary force to provide leadership.  Even the struggle for restoration of democracy to whatever extent need to be developed as  conducive to anti-capitalist revolutionary movement.  While organizing all the forces ready to fight for the common cause of bringing back democracy on a common platform and develop the same as a fighting United Front which would steer and guide the movement on a protracted basis along the right track till the objective of bringing back democracy is attained, necessary struggle to build up genuine revolutionary leadership on the soil to lead people’s struggle for emancipation to its logical end also need to be conducted in right earnest.

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