Learning it the hard way

According to Aung Thaw, Deputy Defense Minister, as reported by Reuters last month, “the military is both the architect and guardian of his country’s embryonic democracy.”
His statement said a lot of things unsaid:

  • The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is just a front for the military
  • The government led by ex-Gen Thein Sein is also nothing but a stooge of the military
  • The military has no aim to give up power
  • For the time being, just for form’s sake and out of necessity, Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the ethnic armed movements are free to have their fun, but the military aims to return to power both in form and substance when the time comes
  • Thein Sein can open up the urban areas as he pleases, but the rural areas remain under the military

This, in essence, is the “disciplined multi-party democratic system,” as enshrined in the military-drawn constitution (Article-7). At least that’s what I think.

Myanmar's Deputy Defense Minister Brig Gen Aung Thaw poses for a photo after an exclusive interview with Reuters at his ministry in Naypyitaw September 20, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

His disclosure reminds me of three things:

Democracy, according to the Communists, is a change brought about by the bourgeoisie (middle classes). But, according to Chinese Communists, the Chinese bourgeoisie were too weak and feudalism and imperialism were too strong, the task of leading the democratic revolution fell on the shoulders of Chinese proletariat (meaning Chinese Communists). It was therefore a New Democracy (later also known as People’s Democracy).

Burma’s military appears to be thinking in the same vein: that the country’s democratic reforms cannot be affected without its leadership.

In a way, the present military leaders are no different from their predecessors in 1962, when they adopted socialism – the Burmese way to Socialism (in effect, the Burmese military’s way to socialism) – as the country’s official dogma.

As we all know, its socialism didn’t bring “from each according to his ability, to each according to his input” as promised. It merely changed things from bad to worse, and brought about the 8-8-88 nationwide movements that became its death knell.

Gen Ne Win, who headed the 1962-88 “disciplined socialism” later admitted: “Had I understood the law of the wheel of life and death, the law of conditioned things and the law of impermanence and non-ego (The Buddha’s teachings) the way I understand them now, I wouldn’t have done what I did in March 1962.” (U Chit Hlaing’s Tayan Yaw Akha Mya (“Those once upon a time”)

Of course, it is not the way of human beings to learn from past mistakes. Else “History repeated” would have been an unheard of expression.

Nevertheless, I keep my fingers crossed and hope that the present military, for the sake of the country and the people it claims to be protecting, that, like Gen Ne Win, it doesn’t have to learn it the hard way.


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