Tag: <span>the Karen</span>

Myanmar military Appeals

Burma: An Alternative to Military Rule Takes Form.

Featured picture credit: MgHla (aka) Htin Linn Aye, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, taking advantage of a clause of the Myanmar constitution providing the possibility for the military to establish a state of emergency, took power.  The military already played a dominant role in the civilian-led government of Aung San Suu Kyi which started in 2015.  The military automatically held key security ministries as well as an automatic non-elected percentage in the national parliament, giving the military in practice a veto on any legislation that it did not like.  It is unclear why the military leadership felt that its political and financial position was so much in danger that it needed a coup to take full control, arrest much of the civilian leadership, an estimated 2000, and force others into exile or to the frontier areas  largely under the control of armed ethnic groups such as the Karen.

Pete Souza, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Pete Souza, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

It is true that the elections to Parliament on 8 November 2020 gave Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy an even larger majority and showed her popularity in all sections of the population.  The Parliament could have started to investigate the role that the military play in the economy, both the legal economy such as owning the conglomerate Myanmar Economic  Economic Holding Public Company and the illegal drug and gem-related trade.  However, the Parliament had had five years of relatively democratic rule and had not moved against the financial involvement nor against the Army’s highly destructive campaign against the Rohingya, causing nearly one million to flee to Bangladesh  and a smaller number toward the northeast states of India such as Mizoram and Nagaland.

“Everything will be OK”.

General Min Aung Hlaing who led the operation against the Rohingya as well as against other minority groups as Chief of Staff took a calculated risk in leading the coup, knowing that such a coup would be unpopular with neighboring States as well as unpopular at the United Nations. He could not know how much popular opposition would result and what tactics the opposition would use.  Much of the opposition to the military leadership has come from young people who had come to maturity during the years of transition to democratic structures starting in 2011.  Ma Kyal Sin, a 19-year old, wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the message “Everything will be OK” killed by a military sniper in Mandalay on 3 March 2021 is a symbol of this youthful opposition.

However, an alternative to military-led government has to be more than a youth-led opposition. Thus a group of elected members of Parliament has now formed an alternative government, a Government of National Unity although most of the members are in exile abroad. The alternative government has started to work on a new constitution which would develop a federal or con-federal form of government.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

In 1985, the Association of World Citizens became concerned with the conditions of the ethnic minorities in Burma.  We were in contact with the representatives of ethnic minorities, in particular the Karen, Kachin, Shan and Mon who would come to Geneva for sessions of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.  One leading world citizen was able to spend time in the Kachin area having entered via Thailand.  We discussed what might be a federal or con-federal government.  The representatives of the minorities often knew what they did not want: a centralized government that did not respect the cultural values of the minorities.  They were less clear on what a federal government would be.

The new government in exile wishes to symbolize such a federal government. Of the 26 ministers, 13 are from ethnic minorities.  The Executive would be headed by Duwa Lashi La, a Kachin, the Prime Minister would be Mahn Win Khaing Than, a Karen, the Defense Minister would be Lian Hmung Sakhong, a Chin.  Eight women would be part of this executive, including Zin Mar Aung as Foreign Minister and Karen Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe as the newly created Minister of Women, Youth and Children.  A quarter of this 26-person executive are not linked to any political movement or party but were chosen for their experience.

The alternative to military rule is taking a positive form.

It is obviously too early to know what are the chances of the military giving way to this alternative structure.  There are real possibilities that armed conflict will increase as some of the youth are joining existing ethnic armed movements.  We have to hope that there will be a growing international demand within the United Nations and among non-governmental organizations for a transition to this national unity government.  Long years of armed opposition have only led to human rights violations, economic stagnation, and population displacements.  New avenues of action are necessary.  The alternative to military rule is taking a positive form.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

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Pete Souza, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Appeals

Myanmar: Fair Elections But Challenges Ahead.

Pete Souza, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

By Rene Wadlow.

The 8 November 2020 elections;  for the two houses of the Myanmar Parliament were carried out with little violence. The National League for Democracy (NLD);  headed by Aung San Suu Kyi won some 80 percent of the open seats. The military have one fourth of the seats;  reserved for their nominated members. This provision of the constitution;  gives the military an effective veto over any measures;  that they do not like.

There are still a few political figures;  linked to the military in the small party Union for Solidarity and Development (USDP);  but basically the military are satisfied with their veto power in Parliament;  and their opportunities for making money in government-related business. There is no political leader of first order in the USDP. Thus;  there is little change in the makeup of the Parliament;  since the previous election of 2015.

However;  a large number of people could not vote. The Union Election Committee suspended all voting in some minority areas. It is estimated that over two million potential voters;  were in these areas where voting was canceled. The largely Muslim Rohingya;  had already been stripped of their Burmese nationality. Many have fled to Bangladesh both in a 1990 exodus;  and again more recently. Yet there are still a good number living in Myanmar;  but unable to vote. There are also a good number of people (estimates are not clear);  who are held in internment camps as a result of military-ethnic militias tensions;  who could not vote. In addition;  there are a large number of persons;  who have moved to Thailand to escape the long years of military repression;  who could not vote. Thus;  we must keep the election results in their context.

The NLD Government.

The governing record of the NLD is very uneven;  both in terms of bringing an end to the ethnic conflicts;  but also in the economic sector. Much of the Myanmar economy is linked to that of China. While there has always been a fairly numerous population of Chinese and Indians in the commercial sector of Burma;  the last few years have seen a wave of new immigrants from China starting stores, hotels, and other businesses. However;  there is little organized political opposition to the NLD. The government has actively discouraged any other political groups;  and critics in the press or social media have been arrested;  or their actions limited.

The NLD government has made little progress in dealing with the central issue facing the country: in order to create a stable country;  there is a need to find a creative balance between the central government and the ethnic minorities. Creating a governmental structure that respects separate cultures;  and yet sees the need to work together is not easy. The majority ethnic Burman live mostly in the central river valleys – the Irrawaddy plain – while the ethnic minorities – of whom the Karen, Karrenni, Kachin, Mon, Wu and Shan have been most active in the insurgencies – inhabit a large arc along the borders with Thailand, China, Laos, India and Bangladesh. The insurgent forces have often been small;  often structured on kinship or village loyalties;  and rise and fall with bewildering frequency.

New and Just Governmental Structures.

Having worked at the U.N. in Geneva in the late 1980s;  after the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations until the mid-1990s; with some of the main representatives of the ethnic minorities on a possible federal constitution;  I am fully aware of the difficulties of creating new and just governmental structures. My hope was that a younger generation would be willing to develop realistic federal arrangements;  which would provide for political equality, respect for languages and cultures and autonomy in decision making.

The problem is that this younger generation does not hold power. Those in power both in the government and the ethnic minority structures;  are unwilling to give up the present status quo;  with its many opportunities for corruption for an uncharted future. A certain amount of political courage and vision is needed. These are in very short supply. We will have to watch closely to see if there are new voices among those elected to the new parliament;  who could present new avenues for creative actions.

 Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

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