Myanmar: Tightening The Political Screws

1998

[Name and address withheld. Ed.]

The ruling military junta has stepped up its pressure on the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, its leader Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the representatives-elect (the winners of the May 1990 elections who have since then been subjected to a long attrition campaign), and the township-level committees.

From the last week of September, throughout October and most of November, mass rallies were orchestrated by the government in all the capitals of the 14 states and divisions that constitute Myanmar as well as in major provincial cities. Using strong and harsh language the "people's representatives" at such rallies denounced the NLD and its General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi calling for her deportation and the party's dissolution. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was personally singled out for criticism of her character and "unpatriotic" political actions.

At the same time, the government unleashed a propaganda blitz aimed at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD leadership through the state-controlled media and on the internet as well. Essays, poems, cartoons, and serialised commentaries that ridiculed, belittled, and threatened the opposition were the order of the day in the local print media.

In November, the military authorities, undoubtedly using coercion, managed to undermine the NLD grassroots organisation by means of "voluntary dissolution" of township-level organising committees and "voluntary resignations" of NLD executives as well as ordinary members. The government seems to be aiming at further marginalising the NLD by a three-pronged strategy: neutralising the township-level party apparatus that acts as a crucial link between the already-isolated centre (based in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's premises) and the party's grassroots supporters.

If sustained harassment and psychological pressure on the grassroots leaders enables the military authorities to pull this off, the NLD will be severely incapacitated in organisational terms.

In another surprise move, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) replaced Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw, a career diplomat, with ex-major (military intelligence) U Win Aung, Ambassador to the United Kingdom. U Ohn Gyaw is reputedly a protege of SPDC Secretary-1 Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, whose attacks in Myanmar's newspapers on the West, NLD, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were more sophisticated than those by other writers.

Both of these developments seem to suggest that the military rulers of Myanmar are tightening the screws on the opposition, step by step, while laying the ground to counter an escalation of Western protests and the possibility of further sanctions.

WATCHPOINT: The military in Myanmar are preparing for the ultimate showdown against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.

 

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