Date: 06 Mar 1995 20:44:08 (LOCAL)
Reply-To: Conference “reg.burma” <>
Subject: Development in Burma!!!!!
To: Recipients of burmanet-l <>
Message-ID: <APC&40000001’0’776977f7’b08@cdp>

From: Tun Myint <>

Arrested Development: Is the Opposition doomed to irrelevance?

By Bertil Lintner, Far Eastern Economic Review, 2 March 1995

Her supporters like to see her as Burma's Mandela, a prisoner now but a premier or president some day. Certainly Aung San Suu Kyi is as popular among the Burmese as Nelson Mandela is among South Africa's black majority. And like him she's viewed internationally as the standard-bearer of her people's freedom.

That hopeful analogy is starting to look hollow, however, in the light of recent events. Last year, Burma's ruling generals held talks with Suu Kyi and showed sign of a more liberal attitude towards the opposition. That led some Burma-watcher to suggest she might be freed in January. But instead, she was left under house arrest, and the junta resumed its hardline stance.

At the same time, the Burmese army attacked the country's most troublesome ethnic rebels, the Karen National Union. The capture of the Karen headquarters at Manerplaw, on the Thai border, was another heavy blow to to the embattled and fragmented opposition.

”Mandela had a massive active movement- ANC,” says a Bangkok-based analyst, referring to the African National Congress. “Suu Kyi remains popular among the population at large, there is no doubt about that. But she doesn’t have any *ORGANIZATION* to back her up.”

Indeed, in light of opposition's recent setbacks, analysts are questioning the future of Suu Kyi’ democracy movement. And as the ruling junta - know as the State Law and Order Restoration Council- increasingly breaks out of its international isolation, some observers are asking whether the democracy movement has any *FUTURE* at all.

The death on Feb 14 of Burma's only democratically elected prime minister, U Nu, provided sobering reminder of the staying power of the military overthrown in 1962, the 87-year-old U Nu had slipped so deep into obscurity that the state-controlled media didn’t even feel it necessary to report his death.

”SLORC holds power by means of the barrel of the gun, and for the people of Burma- as well as some abroad—this is very convincing argument to submit and to cooperate indaily life,” says a Burma-watcher in Bangkok. “The government may be illegitimate and rejected by the people, but it is nevertheless there and running the country without seeming to be too much disturbed by moral or ethical consideration.”

Six years ago, massive street demonstrations rocked virtually every major city and town across Burma. The popular wave swept Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Aung San, to the fore.

The movement was crushed and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. But even so, her party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory in May 1990 election run by the junta.

The fact that the elected assembly was never convened caused ab outcry, and the international community was almost unanimous in its condemnation of Burma's ruling military. The United Nations passed resoultion demanding the release of Suu Kyi and urging the military to respect the outcome of the election.

Today, however, what remains of the Suu Kyi's party inside the country has been cowed into submission. Almost the entire original wasn detained along with Suu Kyi in 1989, and most local party offices have been closed.. Like the Chinese democracy movement, its Burmese equivalent is beset by infighting and factionalism. It may be doomed to irrelevance.

The Democratic Alliance for Burma- formed after the military crackdown by the democracy activists and the ethnic rebel group who sheltered them in the jungle—fell apart as the ethnic armies signed a string of ceasefire agreement with the junta. The Karen National Union, which lost its headquater in late January, was onw of the last rebel groups still fighting Rangoon.

Burma democracy movement now exists almost entirely in exile. Some exiles are active: Harn Yawnghwe, the son of Burma's first president, Saw Ahwe Thaike, publishes a surprisingly non-partisn newsletter in Canada called Burma Alert.

A new magazine in New York, Burma Debate sponsored by the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation, also contains articles expressing a rich variety of viewpoints. And in far-away Oslo, some prodemocracy enthusiasts continue to make daily radio broadcasts in Burmese that are beamed across the globe to Burma.

However, change in inside Burma—especially fledgling economic boom with substantial foreign investment—are affecting Asian as well as Western perceptions of the country. “Pro-democracy movement has been marginalized. It's been obertaken by events inside the country.” says a western diplomats in Rangoon.

For foreign businesses, the most important of those events is the opening of resource-rich economy to the outside world. But Asian officials and analysts offer political explanations for the “constructive engagement” adopted by Asean over the past year.

Though officially means to “encourage democratic developlment” in Burma, Asean's policy of “engaging” the Rangoon generals is motivated more by fears about a growing Chinese influence, Asean officials say privately. China has taken advantage of Burma's isolation to expand its commercial, political and military influence into Southeast Asia, and “Asean wants to counter that,” one official says. According to this reasoning, this can be done only by increasing Asean investment in Burma—and making friend with ruling junta.

A Rangoon-based diplomat suggests that Chinese Premier Li Peng's visit to Rangoon in December convinced the government that it has enough backing to stay in power without compromising with its opponents. “Since the visit, the Slorc has resumed the old hardline rhetoric. There is no more talk of Suu Kyi being ‘our dear sister.’ Now she is once again ‘a foreigner who should go back to Britain.’

Asian analysts says the troubles in nearby have also hurt the chances of Burma's democracy movement. A UN-run election there didn’t deliver the kind of stability needed for economic development. “Obviously, an election is not enough to solve a country's ills. And after the Cambodian experienceno one wants another country to go the same way.” says an analyst in Bangkok.

Whatever the reasons, Rangoon is starting to appear increasingly confident about ingnoring Suu Kyi, just as it ignored U Nu. Despite his sature as an internationalfigure in 1950s, when he was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, U Nu's death went unreported by the state-controlled media.

”The military can afford to ignore the death of U Nu. To them, he was just an irritant, a reminder of an old system which they don’t want to have back,” says a Rangoon-based diplomat.

When the military overthrew U Nu in 1962, it inherited a country with one of the highest standard of living in Asia, a high litracy rate and a thriving middle class. It internationalized everything insight—meaning that economy was taken over by the military-run corporations—and closed of Burma to outside world.

U Nu, who had remained in Burma, resurfaced during the 1988 democracy demonstrations, claiming to still be the legitimately elected premier. But he attracted a little notice from the majority of populace, who rallied around Suu Kyi.

The disastrous effects of three decades of central economic planning have pushed the military to return Burma to market economies, the generals seem to see no need to make simultaneous political concessions.

Most western government continue to condemn Rangoon for human rights abuses, but their protest carry less and less weight as neighouring countries mend fences with the generals. Time, which seemed to be running out for the generals a few years ago, seems to be switching sides. Unless the economic openning of the country truely does force reform, Suu Kyi and democracy movement might find themselves watching Burma's development from sidelines.