Myanmar: Pushing Ahead


Robert H Taylor

Myanmar seems set to continue to push ahead with the agenda set forth in 2004 in the 'seven point road map' of the ruling military State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). No amount of criticism, condemnation, sanctions, or threats of suspensions from international organisations or UN Security Council resolutions seems likely to persuade the SPDC that its domestic or foreign critics know better than they how to take Myanmar forward to its ultimate goal of a 'disciplined' constitutional democracy. Of course, most of the foreign critics, to the extent they have bothered to consider their own desired outcome for the current political situation in Myanmar, do not share the army's intention that it should retain a veto over any future government which might wish to pursue policies not in accord with its autonomous existence or its definition of the national interest. This, of course, is the crux of the issue and after 17 years of bluff and bluster, foreign and domestic critics are seen in the new capital, Naypyidaw, as largely spent forces.

A good example of this is demonstrated by an article published in all of the major Myanmar state-owned newspapers on 4 and 5 July. Under the title 'She who turned alien or [a] danger to the nation', Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is accused of leading the National League for Democracy (NLD) as 'a dictator herself'. She is compared not to her father, national hero and founder of the Myanmar army General Aung San, but to her uncle, Thakin Than Tun. Than Tun, Suu Kyi's uncle via her mother's sister, was the leader of the Burma Communist Party (BCP), which rebelled against the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), which her father led. Than Tun took up arms against the government three months after independence in 1948. Described by Burmese historians as 'power mad', Than Tun is seen as one of the root causes of Myanmar's violent post-independence history. Championing the military government's reliance on Myanmar nationalism as its ideological guide, Than Tun's Communism and Suu Kyi's Western-style 'liberalism' are both described as antithetical to Myanmar's continued existence as a sovereign, coherent and independent state. To quote the article again, 'it is absolutely impossible to reach an agreement between the two sides'.

Threats by the Malaysian foreign minister, Syed Hamid, that ASEAN states would no longer defend Myanmar in international fora following his inability to meet with either SPDC Chairman Senior General Than Shwe or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Yangon in March this year is viewed in Naypyidaw as a violation of the rules of the ASEAN club which Myanmar joined in 1997. As one of the cardinal club rules has been non-interference in the internal affairs of another club member, the Myanmar official view is that it is not for the friends of the United States and the European Union to rewrite the rules unilaterally, as the state-owned press noted in a recent issue.

While the external world discusses additional threats and sanctions on Myanmar, the SPDC seems set to push on with its own designs. It has made it reasonably clear that the forthcoming session of the national convention, which is drawing up the guidelines for a new constitution, will be the last. Speculation in Yangon is that late 2007 will see a nation-wide referendum on a new constitution. Some observers are even predicting that by the end of 2008, following elections under a new constitution, there will be a government out of army uniform and in Burmese civilian longyi (sarong) in Naypyidaw. Judging by the evidence of the past 17 years, there is little which could stop such a scenario evolving. The ethnic minority armed groups which have entered into ceasefire agreements with the regime, while not happy with the situation, realise they have little choice but to concur with the government's plans. Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi and her withering NLD are largely contained within a web of constraints, if not in exile or under detention as she remains. The government's favoured electoral vehicle, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), is becoming daily more visible and active.

Meanwhile, as the Middle East crisis deepens and the major states involved in the North Korean missile issue fail to concur on an agreed policy, Myanmar slips further out of sight as an international issue. Much rhetoric is expended on encouraging China to apply pressure on the SPDC to reach a compromise with Aung San Suu Kyi. But what would be China's interest in doing so? No one has yet answered that question.

WATCHPOINT: Will China publicly express concern for the political situation in Myanmar? What effective action, if any, will ASEAN endorse to address the Myanmar question?


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