Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MYANMAR IN 2007: Growing Pressure for Change but the Regime Remains Obdurate

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MYANMAR IN 2007: Growing Pressure for Change but the Regime Remains Obdurate

Article excerpt

As Myanmar entered its twentieth year of direct military rule, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) once more spurned its critics and opponents at home and abroad. Facing in September the largest organized anti-government demonstrations in nearly two decades, ensconced in their new capital, Naypyitaw, the generals appeared outwardly unperturbed by the huge pressure generated. Perhaps anticipating minor protests in August by political activists following draconian petrol and gas price increases, the regime appeared initially unprepared for the much larger protests by Buddhist monks who took to the streets of Yangon and other cities to protest at rising food prices and the general decrepitude of the urban life, as well as continued military rule. At the conclusion of the first step, the National Convention, in the regime's lengthy seven-step road map to a new power-sharing constitutional order, many inside and outside Myanmar thought an opportunity had arisen to weaken the army's grip and open political options anew. A role was sought for the National League for Democracy (NLD) General-Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the future political order, as well as consideration of federalist demands by some ethnic minority leaders, plus a reduction in the power of the army as foreseen in the principles agreed at the constitutional convention. However, at year's end, the closure implied by the completion of the National Convention remained unaltered and the power of the ruling generals appeared undiminished.

From January onwards, Myanmar was increasingly in the world's news. Foreign politicians and civil servants who had largely ignored two decades of political stasis, except for perfunctory remarks and repetitious resolutions of condemnation, sought to make the country's fate an international issue. Seeking the fame that would come to the politician given credit for freeing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and establishing a "democratic regime" in Myanmar, they, however, had little new to say or offer.1 For those who have long followed developments centring on Southeast Asia's major "problem country", it had a sense of déjà vu despite claims that everything had changed and the status quo was not an option. Inside the country, very little seemed to change in 2007, despite the increasing anger of many people, for the reality of military rule under army rules remained firmly in place. No one had yet found a way to break the stasis that had made Myanmar the West's béte noire and its people among the poorest of Southeast Asia. The country's unalterable geography and natural resources, allied with its fractious political history, provided stability that demands in the United Nations and large-scale protests by monks on the streets of Myanmar could not move. And yet, it moved, if only in the passing of another year in the mortal lives of men and women.

Internal Affairs

The National Convention and SPDC

Myanmar's National Convention, first convened in controversy in January 1993, adjourned sine die in April 1996, having agreed a set of fundamental principles for a future constitution. The most controversial of these was the continuing political power and autonomy of the army in any future power-sharing arrangements with political parties and former ethnic insurgent or ceasefire groups. The convention resumed in expanded form with 1,086 largely government appointed delegates with the addition of a number of ceasefire groups in May 2004, following the announcement of a "seven-step road map to a discipline flourishing democracy" in August 2003. In all, the convention met for four additional sessions, each of several months duration, at a conference centre north of Yangon. The penultimate session concluded at the end of 2006 with an expectation that it would resume for a final session in May. However, because of an outbreak of bird flu near the convention site, it did not reconvene until 18 July. The final session ended on 3 September and a fifty-four member Commission for Drafting the State Constitution was appointed on 18 October. …

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