Politics of Burma

Politics of Burma
Burma (Myanmar)

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The government of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is controlled by the military (Tatmadaw) styled in the form of a presidential republic under the 2008 constitution. A parliamentary government was elected in 1990, but the military prevented it from convening.


Political conditions

Historically, Burma was a monarchy ruled by various dynasties prior to the 19th century. The British colonized Burma in the late 19th century, and it was under the jurisdiction of the British Raj until 1937.

Burma was ruled as a British colony from the 1885 until 1948. While the Bamar heartland was directly administered (first as a part of India and then, from 1937, as British Burma), ethnic regions outside the heartland were allowed some measure of self-rule along the lines of the Princely States of India. This led to split loyalties among the various ethnic groups to outside powers (either to the British or Japanese) as well between the indigenous people in Burma[citation needed]. The dominant ethnic group in Burma are the Bamar, who make up approximately sixty-eight percent of the population. During World War II, many members of the Bamar ethnic group volunteered to fight alongside the Japanese in hopes of overthrowing the occupying British forces[citation needed]. Meanwhile, many other ethnic groups supported the Allied forces in combating the Japanese and Burman forces. This conflict would come to be very significant in the aftermath of World War Two when Burma was granted its independence from Great Britain in 1948. By granting independence to Burma, the British government gave the new ruler, Aung San, control over areas that were not traditionally controlled by the Bamar. This conglomeration of formerly British-owned land created a state that is home to over twenty distinct minority ethnic groups.[citation needed]

From the time of the signing of the Burmese Constitution in 1948, ethnic minorities have been denied Constitutional rights, access to lands that were traditionally controlled by their peoples and participation in the government. The various minority ethnic groups have been consistently oppressed by the dominant Burman majority, but have also suffered at the hands of warlords and regional ethnic alliances. Religion also plays a role in the ethnic conflicts that have taken place. Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists all live in Burma. These religious differences have led to several incidents that have affected hundreds of thousands of citizens in Burma. In 1991, approximately 250,000 Muslim Rohingyas (an ethnic group from southwestern Burma) were forced from their homes by Burman forces .[1] They crossed the border into Bangladesh, where they were given refugee status and aid from the international community that was not available to them inside Burma.

The current government of Burma is led by Prime Minister (and General) Thein Sein. This current regime has been responsible for the displacement of several hundred thousand citizens, both inside and outside of Burma. The Karen, Karenni, and Mon ethnic groups have been forced to seek asylum in neighboring Thailand, where they are also abused by an unfriendly and unsympathetic government.[citation needed] These groups are perhaps more fortunate than the Wa and Shan ethnic groups who have become Internally Displaced Peoples in their own state since being removed from lands by the military junta in 2000. There are reportedly 600,000 of these Internally Displaced Peoples living in Burma today. Many are trying to escape forced labour in the military or for one of the many state-sponsored drug cartels.[citation needed] This displacement of peoples has led to both human rights violations as well as the exploitation of minority ethnic groups at the hands of the dominant Burman group. The primary actors in these ethnic struggles include but are not limited to the Government of Burma (junta), the Karen National Union and the Mong Tai Army.


Independence era

On 4 January 1948, Burma achieved independence from Britain, and became a democracy based on the parliamentary system.

On the 19th of July 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members. On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities.[2] The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.[3]

AFPFL/Union Government

In 1961, U Thant, then Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organization and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years.[4] Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi.

Military socialist era

In 1962, General Ne Win led a coup d'état and established a nominally socialist military government that sought to follow the "Burmese Way to Socialism." The military expropriated private businesses and followed an economic policy of autarky, or economic isolation.

SPDC era

The former Head of state was Senior General Than Shwe who held the title of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council." His appointed prime minister was Khin Nyunt until 19 October 2004, when he was forcibly deposed in favor of Gen. Soe Win. Almost all cabinet offices are held by military officers.

US and European government sanctions against the military government, combined with consumer boycotts and shareholder pressure organized by Free Burma activists, have succeeded in forcing most western corporations to withdraw from Burma. However, some western oil companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions. For example, the French oil company Total S.A. and the American oil company Chevron continue to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) is the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for alleged complicity in human rights abuses along the gas pipeline. Before it was acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount.[5] Asian businesses, such as Daewoo, continue to invest in Burma, particularly in natural resource extraction.

The United States and European clothing and shoe industry became the target of Free Burma activists for buying from factories in Burma that were wholly or partly owned by the government or the military. Many stopped sourcing from Burma after protests, starting with Levi Strauss in 1992. From 1992 to 2003, Free Burma activists successfully forced dozens of clothing and shoe companies to stop sourcing from Burma. These companies included Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Macy's, J. Crew, JoS. A. Banks, Children's Place, Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart, and Target. The U.S. government banned all imports from Burma as part of the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" of 2003. Sanctions have been criticized for their adverse effects on the civilian population. However, Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly credited sanctions for putting pressure on the ruling military regime.[6][7]

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented egregious human rights abuses by the military government.[8] There is no independent judiciary in Burma and the military government suppresses political activity. The government restricts Internet access, including blocking of Google, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.[9] The government uses software-based filtering from US company Fortinet to limit the materials citizens can access on-line, including free email services, free web hosting and most political opposition and pro-democracy pages.[10]

In 2001, the government permitted NLD office branches to re-open throughout Burma. However, they were shut down or heavily restricted beginning 2004, as part of a government campaign to prohibit such activities. In 2006, many members resigned from NLD, citing harassment and pressure from the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) and the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

The military government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again on 31 May 2003, following an attack on her convoy in northern Burma by a mob reported to be in league with the military. The regime extended her house arrest for yet another year in late November 2005. Despite a direct appeal by Kofi Annan to Than Shwe and pressure from ASEAN, the Burmese government extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006.[11] She was released in 2010.[12]

The junta faces increasing international isolation. Burma's situation was referred to at the UN (United Nations) Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. ASEAN has also stated its frustration with Burma's government. However, China and Russia continue to support the junta. Both countries vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Burma in January 2007.

According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on 18 April 2007, several of its members (Myint Aye, Maung Maung Lay, Tin Maung Oo and Yin Kyi) were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local USDA Secretary U Nyunt Oo and beaten up. Due to the attack, Myint Hlaing and Maung Maung Lay were badly injured and are now hospitalized. The HRDP believes that this attack was condoned by the authorities and vows to take legal action. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters was formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Burma about their human rights.

New constitution

Myanmar's army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved (by 92.4% of the 22 million voters with alleged voter turnout of 99%) on 10 May in the first phase of a two-stage referendum amid Cyclone Nargis. It was the first national vote since the 1990 election. Multi-party elections in 2010 would end 5 decades of military rule, as the new charter gives the military an automatic 25% of seats in parliament. NLD spokesman Nyan Win, inter alia, criticized the referendum: "This referendum was full of cheating and fraud across the country; In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything."[13] The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi, from public office. 5 million citizens will vote 24 May in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta, worst hit by Cyclone Nargis.[14]

Executive branch

Title Name Term began
President Thein Sein 30 March 2011
Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo 30 March 2011
Sai Mauk Kham 30 March 2011

The President is the head of state and head of government. He oversees the Cabinet of Burma.

Members of Government of Burma

Office Name
Minister of Agriculture & Irrigation Myint Hlaing, U.
Minister of Commerce Win Myint, U.
Minister of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs Thein Tun, U.
Minister of Construction Khin Maung Myint, U.
Minister of Cooperatives Ohn Myint, U.
Minister of Culture Kyaw San, U.
Minister of Defense Hla Min, Maj. Gen.
Minister of Education Mya Aye, Dr.
Minister of Electric Power (1) Zaw Min, U.
Minister of Electric Power (2) Khin Maung Soe, U.
Minister of Energy Than Htay, U.
Minister of Finance and Revenue Hla Tun, U.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Wunna Maung Lwin, U.
Minister of Forestry Win Tun, U.
Minister of Health Pe Thet Khin, Dr.
Minister of Home Affairs Ko Ko, Lt. Gen.
Minister of Hotels and Tourism Tint Hsan, U.
Minister of Immigration and Population Khin Yi, U.
Minister of Industry (1) Kyaw Swa Khaing, U.
Minister of Industry (2) Soe Thein, U.
Minister of Information Kyaw Hsan, U.
Minister of Labor Aung Kyi, U.
Minister of Livestock Breeding and Fisheries Tin Naing Thein, U.
Minister of Mines Thein Htaik, U.
Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Tin Naing Thein, U.
Minister of Border Affairs Thein Htay, Maj. Gen.
Minister of Rail Transport Aung Min, U.
Minister of Religious Affairs Thura Myint Maung, U.
Minister of Science and Technology Aye Myint, U.
Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Aung Kyi, U.
Minister of Sports Tint Hsan, U.
Minister of Transport Nyan Tun Aung, U.
Minister of Myanma Industrial Developement Thein Htay, Maj. Gen.
Minister of President Office Thein Nyunt, U.
Minister of President Office Soe Maung, U.
Union Attorney-General Tun Shin, Dr.

Legislative branch

Under the 2008 Constitution the legislative power of the Union is shared among the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Region Hluttaws and State Hluttaws.[15] The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw consists of the People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) elected on the basis of township as well as population, and the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw) with on an equal number of representatives elected from Regions and States.[16][17] The People's Assembly consists of 440 representatives, with 110 being military personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.[18] The House of Nationalities consists of 224 representatives with 56 being military personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.[19]

The last legislature under the 1974 Constitution was a unicameral People's Assembly, in which 492 seats are elected by popular vote in four-year terms. The last elections were held 27 May 1990, but was never convened.

1990 People's Assembly election results
Party Votes Seats  %
Pop. Seats
National League for Democracy (NLD) 7,943,622 392 58.7 79.7
Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) 222,821 23 1.7 4.7
Minor parties and independents 1,606,858 12 12.1 2.4
Arakan feague for Democracy (AfD) 160,783 11 1.2 2.2
National Unity Party (NUP) 2,805,559 10 21.2 2.0
Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) 138,572 5 1.0 1.0
National Democratic Party for Human Rights 128,129 4 1.0 0.8
Chin National feague for Democracy 51,187 3 0.4 0.1
Kachin State National Congress for Democracy 13,994 3 0.1 0.1
Party for National Democracy 72,672 3 0.5 0.1
Union Pa-O National Organisation 35,389 3 0.3 0.1
Democratic Organisation for Kayah National Unity 16,553 2 0.1 -
Kayah State Nationalities League for Democracy 11,664 2 0.1 -
Naga Hills Regional Progressive Party 10,612 2 0.1 -
Ta-ang (Palaung) National League for Democracy 16,553 2 0.1 -
Zomi National Congress (ZNC) 18,638 2 0.1 -
Total valid votes (87.7% of total cast) 13,253,606 492 100.0
Invalid votes 1,858,918
Valid votes (72.6% turnout) 15,112,524
Eligible voters 20,818,313
Source: psephos.adam-carr.net 

Judicial system

Burma's judicial system is limited. British-era laws and legal systems remain much intact, but there is no guarantee of a fair public trial. The judiciary is not independent of the executive branch. Burma does not accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction. The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Aung Toe, and Attorney General Aye Maung.

Wareru dhammathat

Wareru dhammathat or the Manu dhammathat (မနုဓမ္မသတ်) was the earliest law-book in Burma. It consists of laws ascribed to the ancient Indian sage, Manu, and brought to Burma by Hindu colonists. The collection was made at Wareru’s command, by monks from the writings of earlier Mon scholars preserved in the monasteries of his kingdom. (Wareru seized Martaban in 1281 and obtained the recognition of China as the ruler of Lower Burma and founded a kingdom which lasted until 1539. Martaban was its first capital, and remained so until 1369. It stretched southwards as far as Tenasserim.)[20]

Dhammazedi pyatton

Mon King Dhammazedi (1472–92) was the greatest of the Mon rulers of Wareru’s line. He was famous for his wisdom and the collection of his rulings were recorded in the Kalyani stone inscriptions and known as the Dammazedi pyatton.[21]

Administrative divisions

Burma is divided into seven regions (previously called divisions) divisions (taing) and seven states (pyi-nè), classified by ethnic composition. The seven regions are Ayeyarwady Region, Bago Division, Magway Division, Mandalay Division, Sagaing Division, Tanintharyi Division and Yangon Division; the seven states are Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin State, Kayah State, Mon State, Rakhine State and Shan State. There are also five Self-administrated zones and a Self-administrated Division "for National races with suitable population"[22]

Within the Sagain Region

  • Naga (Leshi, Lahe and Namyun townships)

Within the Shan State

  • Palaung (Namshan and Manton townships)
  • Kokang (Konkyan and Laukkai townships)
  • Pao (Hopong, Hshihseng and Pinlaung townships),
  • Danu (Ywangan and Pindaya townships),
  • Wa Selfadministrated division (Hopang, Mongmao, Panwai, Pangsang, Naphan and Metman townships)

International organization participation


See also

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  1. ^ p. 385 in: Selth, Andrew. Even Paranoids Have Enemies: “Cyclone Nargis and Myanmar’s Fears of Invasion”. Contemporary Southeast Asia 30.3 (2008): p. 379–402.
  2. ^ "The Constitution of the Union of Burma". DVB. 1947. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20060615072018/http://english.dvb.no/e_docs/511947_con.htm. Retrieved 7 July 2006. 
  3. ^ Smith, Martin (1991). Burma -Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. London and New Jersey: Zed Books. pp. 42–43. 
  4. ^ Aung Zaw. "Can Another Asian Fill U Thant's Shoes?". The Irrawaddy Sep 2006. http://www.irrawaddy.org/aviewer.asp?a=6123&z=104. Retrieved 12 September 2006. [dead link]
  5. ^ Horsley, William (20 October 2004). "Dilemma of dealing with Burma". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3761022.stm. Retrieved 2 November 2004. 
  6. ^ Hiatt, Fred (23 June 2003). "How Best to Rid the World of Monsters". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A21505-2003Jun22. Retrieved 24 May 2006. 
  7. ^ "Reuters Belgian group seeks Total boycott over Myanmar". Ibiblio (Reuters). 10 May 1999. http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/reg.burma/archives/199905/msg00184.html. Retrieved 24 June 2006. 
  8. ^ "Active Citizens under Political Wraps: Experiences from Burma and Vietnam". Heinrich Böll Foundation. http://www.boell.de/index.html?http://www.boell.de/en/05_world/4756.html. 
  9. ^ Times of India article
  10. ^ "Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study". OpenNet Initiative. http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/burma/. 
  11. ^ The Irrawaddy (27 May 2006). "Suu Kyi’s Detention Extended, Supporters likely to Protest". The Irrawaddy. http://www.irrawaddy.org/aviewer.asp?a=5797&z=154. Retrieved 27 May 2006. [dead link]
  12. ^ Ba Kaung (13 November 2010). "Suu Kyi Freed at Last". The Irrawaddy. http://www.irrawaddy.org/highlight.php?art_id=20068. Retrieved 2010-11-14. 
  13. ^ Reuters, Cyclone-hit Myanmar says 92 percent back charter
  14. ^ www.gmanews.tv, Myanmar OKs charter amid cyclone disaster
  15. ^ Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 12(a)
  16. ^ Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 12(b)
  17. ^ Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 74
  18. ^ Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 109
  19. ^ Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 141
  20. ^ BURMA, D. G . E. HALL, M.A., D.LIT., F.R.HIST.S., Professor Emeritus of the University of London and formerly Professor of History in the University of Rangoon, Burma.Third edition 1960. Page 34
  21. ^ BURMA, D. G . E. HALL, M.A., D.LIT., F.R.HIST.S. Professor Emeritus of the University of London and formerly Professor of History in the University of Rangoon, Burma. Third edition 1960. Page 35-36
  22. ^ New administrative map of Burma page 2 of the Burma Policy Briefing by the Transnational Institute

Further reading

  • Myint-U, Thant (2008). The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma. London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 
  • CIA World Factbook

External links

Burmese democracy and human rights online media

There are a number of web sites for more information, including the following:

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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