The people of Myanmar have long been fighting the military rule existing in their country, long been under the threat of civil war. The neighbours should now at least lend a helping hand in Myanmars transition from military rule to democracy.
MYANMAR’S PATH towards democracy is not a bed of roses. Any discussion on this issue clearly brings into the forefront the present political, social and economic situation of Myanmar. Myanmar, presently, is under military rule after a long phase of ethnic strives, conflicts and civil war.
Ever since her independence from British rule in 1948, Myanmar has been facing political instability – an offshoot of the British policy of divide and rule. Today, this strategically important country has become synonymous with poverty, illegal drug trade, human right violation, total collapse of the education system, lack of freedom of expression, etc. Any attempt at restoration of democracy has been violently suppressed, as had happened in 1988 and again in 1990, when the military junta refused to honour the verdict of the multi party election, which had brought Aung sung su kyi to power. Today, pro-democratic forces are working under severe limitation and restrictions imposed by the government.
Given such a situation, the question obviously arises as to whether democracy is possible in Myanmar. If yes, then there are certain issues that need to be seriously addressed:
1) How do we achieve democracy in Myanmar?
2) What should be the modus operandi?
3) What role can the international community play?
Myanmar, as we all know, is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country, which had been under civil war for a long period after independence. We cannot deny that the military has succeeded in keeping the country united and at least providing a semblance of a stable government. Given the existing ethnic rivalries in the country, any struggle for democracy must be preceded by a serious dialogue between the contending ethnic groups, so that they can fix up an agenda for their struggle and stand united. This is not an impossibility given the fact that 82 per cent voted for a democratic government in 1990. Unless this is achieved, it will be very difficult to evoke international sympathy for the people of Myanmar. Before toppling the military government, we need to ensure not only that Myanmar’s transition to democracy is long term and permanent, but also that the country is not plunged into yet another civil war. A constitution for the country can be framed only after the government of the people comes to power and not under the supervision of a military government. A constituent assembly, comprising of representatives of different ethnic groups and religious groups, should frame the Constitution in order to ensure the unity of the country.
It is only when the people of the country are mentally prepared that they can seek international help, and in this, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) can play an important role. Myanmar needs to present its cause to the ASEAN countries and raise the issue in the UNO, which can provide financial aid to the democratic movement there and can also pressurise the junta to step down. The present international sanction imposed by the west on Myanmar has, in no way, facilitated the transition towards democracy nor did Myanmar’s policy of isolation. Both these policies have only strengthened the military rule in the country. International sanctions should be withdrawn immediately so that the common people can overcome poverty.
It is only active involvement of the international powers in Myanmar that can provide solution to the problems. The international community can also pressurise the military to enter into a dialogue with the democratic forces and the ethnic factions. The neighbouring countries like India
and Bangladesh should also seriously look into the problem, as restoration of democracy would be particularly favourable to them, as it will help the former to tackle the major insurgency groups operating in the north eastern borders and the latter can have a respite from the alarming refugee problem, which it is presently facing. The policy of non-interference, which the ASEAN countries have been following, needs to be stopped and only active lobbying for Myanmar’s cause can do this.
An effective leadership is the need of the hour for Myanmar. Ethnic unity and international awareness can at least pressurise the military junta both from within and outside. The UN needs to clearly stress that human rights abuses, failure to allow democratic processes will have serious negative consequences. Strong international pressure may enable the release of Su Kyi from house arrest. This move in itself will infuse the people with self-confidence and self-pride, which are essential for any movement.
Another noticeable feature of Myanmar problem is the lack of seriousness to the cause, especially from the ASEAN countries including India that do not hesitate to communicate with the military government when it concerns its own self-interest. This, no doubt, provides legitimacy to the government that holds power by dishonouring the people’s verdict. Unless Myanmar deals effectively with these challenges, abolishment and consolidation of democracy in the country will still be a far cry.