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SINCE 1962, Myanmar’s political life has been dominated directly or indirectly by military leaders, either through outright dictatorship or in an uneasy coalition with the main civilian party the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.
However, according to the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) the military must not be viewed simply as a political force but, as far as its elite ranks are concerned, an economic one too.
“The conflicts between the military and the NLD are longstanding. The main reason for this is that the military itself has become a clique by itself among the ruling powers of the nation and it does not intend to get along with, far less submit to, any civilian government. This is a mentality it inherited from Ne Win, the first military dictator in modern Burma’s history,” according to a CP of Burma spokesman.
One of the points of friction in the CPB’s view is that both groups “represent Burma’s richest stratum, the bureaucratic capitalists. But they belong to different groups. Neither of them has an interest in making the commoners rich nor closing the widening gap between the rich and the poor.”
Though the contradiction between the two groups do not centre exactly on specific interests and enterprises, no-one can deny that there’s a conflict of interests between the two economically as well.
The military’s most lucrative form of enrichment has been through the creation of two mega-monopolies that together are involved in almost every sector of Myanmar’s economy, from mining to agriculture and from banking to telecoms.
The generals’ conglomerates–Myanmar Economy Holdings Ltd and the Myanmar Economic Corporation–hold sway in Burma’s economy and the generals are very sensitive about the development of these two groups.
It is said that after the latest elections, the generals sensed signs of danger to their pet conglomerates, so they took action immediately without warning.
Nonetheless the party representative notes, “it is difficult to pinpoint the specific issue that ignited the latest conflict inside our nation. The misgivings and prejudices [between the army and the civilian government] were there long ago, without compromises, no matter what the people want them to do.
Since the 1962 coup d’etat, no civilian government in this country has lasted more than a decade. All of them had to kneel down in front of the gunmen. The military has been pressing the NLD to do the same since the aftermath of the 1988 movements, while at the same time they prepare to stage coups whenever necessary.
“Thus, ‘the coup’ becomes a handy word for the military to threaten civilian politicians in our nation. This time they proved they meant what they said. Perhaps they may say that they are fulfilling their ancestors’ wishes,” the CPB representative says.
As for the NLD, the Communist view is more nuanced. The league has a genuine mass base, built upon a transferred reverence for the historical leader of the anti-colonial struggle Aung San to his daughter Suu Kyi, but among the NLD’s founding leaders were figures associated with previous military regimes.
The NLD emerged out of the 1988 political uprisings across the country. They were able to ride the tide of the masses and won the admiration of many people.
Though we cannot say that the NLD led the movement, we can say that they reaped the fruit of the movement due to the charisma of Suu Kyi and other prominent opposition leaders, some of whom were Marxists.
Suu Kyi was pushed to the top by the masses, who were in need of a popular figure at the time. Lacking any political experience, she introduced Western-style politics directly to Burma.
After reaching the pinnacle, a couple of years later, Suu Kyi ousted all those who she thought were left-leaning people from the organisation. Many people believe she did so according to the advice of rightist hardliners from Burma’s politics, perhaps including the military.
The ‘L’ from the NLD means league, which is the same as AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League), the organisation created by leaders like Aung San and Thakin Than Tun, who engaged in the Anti-Japanese Anti-Fascist Revolution and carried out Burma’s independence movement after that.
Suu Kyi’s connection to her father, who was murdered in 1947, allowed her to claim the mantle of national leadership. This was bolstered by support from other veterans.
The NLD acquired the name because it was made up of the Patriotic Ex-servicemen’s Organisation (led by U Aung Gyi and U Aung Shwe) and the National Democracy Party (led by U Sein Win, a cousin of Suu Kyi) and thus they incorporated ‘league’ within their organisation’s name.
U Aung Gyi and U Aung Shwe, both dead, were retired military leaders and sworn anti-communists. None of the groups represent the workers, peasants or the poorer strata of the nation.
However, the civilian governments headed by the NLD failed to decisively improve the lives of the vast majority of people in Myanmar. In addition, Suu Kyi’s collaboration with the military faction and her association with chauvinist views directed against Myanmar’s dozens of ethnic and religious minorities alienated former supporters.
The NLD and Suu Kyi became very popular after the 1988 upheavals. However, the glitter faded as we entered the 21st century. Now many people in Burma have lost faith in both the NLD and Suu Kyi after their reign for some years.
After seeing them often working hand in hand with the generals, people believe that they have seen their true colours and not a few have publicly denounced them.
When the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [a group of ousted NLD parliamentarians] tried to approach the ethnic armed forces to work together, some of the leaders were reluctant, saying: ‘What if Suu Kyi is released and you picked her as the leader of your movement?’ manifesting their doubts about Suu Kyi’s policy towards the ethnic groups.
Nonetheless the country still lacks anyone of similar national or international stature, the mass movement has not yet provided an adequate alternative to the personality-focused NLD leadership.
Everybody knows that she had expressed her disapproval of the Rohingya people in line with the generals. However, the present movement lacks a figurehead and Suu Kyi may appear there again.
I believe we shall have to wait and see whether she will rise as a phoenix or end as ashes through the present mass movement that is gaining momentum both in numbers and forms of protests.
While she has traded on the reputation of her father, she has remained reticent about his left-wing anti-colonial record.
Suu Kyi grew up under the wing of her mother, a rightist, and in a society where anti-communism prevailed. She was only two years old when her late father was assassinated and she has never mentioned her father’s role in establishing the CPB.
Neither should we forget that she raised her hand in support when prominent leaders of the NLD, who put her on the throne, were dismissed on account of them being ‘leftists’ or ‘communists’.