Myanmar's Facade: Gestures of Democracy. (Global Notebook)

By Elsea, Zachary T. | Harvard International Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Myanmar's Facade: Gestures of Democracy. (Global Notebook)

Elsea, Zachary T., Harvard International Review

Close observers of Myanmar should know not to get their hopes up. In May 2002, the military regime in Yangon released Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), after 19 months of house arrest and demonstrated further good faith by subsequently releasing hundreds of other political prisoners.

With little additional information by which to judge this isolated country's secretive ruling military junta, many in the global community dared to hope that these developments boded well for reconciliation and human rights in Myanmar. Some optimistic observers even believed that Aung San Suu Kyi's release might be Myanmar's first step toward democracy and development. As a senior Bangkok-based UN official told the Inter Press Service, EU members "thought that what happened in South Africa after Nelson Mandela's release would happen in Myanmar after Suu Kyi's freedom."

In October 2002, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer made the first diplomatic visit from his country to Myanmar in nearly 20 years. He arrived hoping to find the political dialogue open and steps underway toward reconciliation between the ruling government and the NLD. Instead, he found the political climate had remained unchanged since Suu Kyi's release. "It seems that progress at the moment--if there is progress at all--is painfully slow," Downer told Australia's ABC Radio. General Than Shwe's military regime has tried to placate its critics with steps that appear to promote peace and reconciliation, but the international community has observed a pattern of human rights abuse and political suppression long enough to see through this thinly-veiled public relations campaign.

The government's overtures are suspect when considered in an historical context. Myanmar is ruled by a small military junta called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which officially seized power in 1988. Juntas are nothing new in Myanmar, which has been ruled by a series of martial dictatorships since General Ne Win seized power in 1962. Formerly the State Law and Order Restoration Council, more commonly known as SLORC, the current regime has been perennially criticized for human rights abuses. In 1990, for example, the NLD won a landslide victory of 457 out of 485 government seats in a free election, but the military regime refused to allow the freely elected government to take power. They jailed most of the winners and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest.

The current regime is known for its ruthlessness. It has literally enslaved its civilian population to work on infrastructural improvements, conscripted children into the military, relocated segments of the population at will, and been repeatedly accused of allowing the military to rape girls and women across the country. The SPDC has silenced political dissenters with threats of incarceration, torture, and death, as a UN special reporter on human rights explained in a July 2002 report.

As a result of the junta's restrictions on human rights and its gross mismanagement of the economy, most of the population lives in extreme poverty. While many Western businesses have divested from Myanmar or faced domestic pressure to move out, the country remains the world's largest producer of illicit opium, and the government continues to increase military spending. While rebel groups have opposed the junta, many have been effectively co-opted by promises of limited autonomy and shared benefits from the government's rule. The average citizen of Myanmar is left not struggling for democracy, but scraping for sustenance in a land from which more than 50 multinational businesses have departed in recent years.

Thus, it is not surprising that there has been no significant progress since Suu Kyi's release. While she herself is no longer confined, her political party remains severely handicapped by the SPDC; members of the NLD remain under strict surveillance and are required to apply for a permit to print any materials, including membership cards. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Myanmar's Facade: Gestures of Democracy. (Global Notebook)


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.