Burmese Army (Tatmadaw) is Anathema to Democracy & Union

By Kanbawza Win | February 27, 2012

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her speech to Kachin State said, “Everyone must adhere to the spirit of Panglong, which is based on equality and unity, with respect, faith and belief in each other. All of these are essential for creating and maintaining a genuine democracy,”[1] She seems to strike the right note because now the people of Burma had slowly discovered that it was the Tatmadaw controlled by the hard liners pulled by Than Shwe are really the culprit of all the troubles befalling on the country as it is anathema to the Union of Burma, Democracy and Human Rights. The Tatmadaw’s ingrained phobia of federalism is the biggest stumbling block along with hard liners’ dissatisfaction of the Tatmadaw playing a perceived smaller role in politics,[2] which can derail the reforms and take the country back to dictatorship.

The Tatmadaw has effectively destroyed every civil institution that might have played that role of leading the country. As long as the Tatmadaw military prevents the rise of pluralism within the governmental structure and the growth of civil society there will be no one to challenge the Tatmadaw is their sincere basic belief. Hence the military believe that they are the only present and future institution capable of keeping Burma united as a single country, and that pluralism is destructive to national unity. This is why they have essentially replaced earlier state ideologies (including socialism under the military-led BSPP regime and Buddhism under U Nu) with an ideology that effectively focuses on the military itself and its comprehensive societal role and, in part, on its mythic history. Whereas under the military's Burma Socialist Programme Party period (1962-1988) the military were portrayed as the keepers of the socialist flame but as of, today it is the military itself that is the ideological nexus of society. The Tatmadaw consider past political leaders as venal, corrupt, ineffective, and incapable of running the state and assuring its unity.

The Tatmadaw believe that the ethnic nationalities are inherently inferior (culturally and socially) and would split from Myanmar authority if given the chance. The Tatmadaw also believe the ethnic nationalities are distrustful of the Myanmar majority and fear Myanmar ethnic domination. The army provide only lip-service respect for ethnic nationalities culture through ritualized holidays and propaganda efforts.

The Tatmadaw view economic progress, reform, or liberalization as secondary to maintenance of political control, or indeed as a means to such control. The primary function of an improved economy is greater military power, general political acquiescence of the population to military control through military delivery of greater economic rewards for loyalty, and improved political legitimacy, and not directly the betterment of the human condition. To this end, the military believe they must control the economy via their cronies and have set up direct and many indirect mechanisms. The military view any form of pluralism within the administration at any level, in the dissemination of information, and among non-governmental organizations as a threat to the state and their control. The military have no intention of giving up essential power even though a civilian facade for their control is likely eventually to be established. They will not grant any ethnic nationality groups a significant degree of power at the national level, although some modest local self-government will be given to some groups with which cease fires have been arranged. The military is rather reluctant to allow Daw Suu to play any significant role in any administration. It is just doing to lift the sanctions.

The Tatmadaw believes that the country is surrounded by enemies–real and potential. These threats no longer take the form of territorial aggrandizement, but economic domination and the possibility of encouraging ethnic nationalities separatism. This fear is based on a reality once extinct e.g. a well documented foreign support include American assistance to KMT forces in Burma, Pakistani-Bangladeshi support for Muslim (Mujahid now Rohingya) insurgents, Thai help to a variety of insurgent groups (both ethnic and students), Indian backing of anti government groups, some British support for the Karen, Chinese aid to the Burma Communist Party and PRC Chinese maps shows some part of Burma into their territory, while WA is a Chinese tribe and a general perception that Christian minorities have closer support and contact with foreigners than do the Myanmar Buddhist.

These fears include China as potentially (or perhaps even presently) having undue influence in Burma. The military regard the United States as highly significant to them because of its international influence, but distrust U.S. motives and influence, believing that if sufficiently provoked the U.S. might intervene militarily in Burma as it had done in Afghanistan and Iraq. Foreign public criticism of the Junta simply forces a nationalistic response, and foreign pressures for reform are viewed as infringements of Burmese sovereignty, and foreign support for the NLD undercuts the NLD’s potential legitimacy (in their view).

If so the theory that the Tadmadaw to take temporary control, when a civilian government strays from its ‘national ideal’ or obligation is correct then it should have solved the civilian conflict long ago among the various ethnic nationalities as any genuine guardian. But this was not the case and is entirely opposite of what they claim. For example, there was a democracy dilemma in civilian rule in early 1950 to 1960: civilian rulers from the Myanmar extremists group tried to dominate the country by secret Buddishnisation and Myanmarnization over other ethnic nationalities by making Buddhism the state religion, the Tatmadaw did nothing even though it express that it was against it. So from this theory it proves that Tatmadaw is not a guardian of the country and did nothing right even though it knows that it was wrong. This alone proves beyond doubt that Tatmadaw is not genuine custodian of the country as it claims. It was just in the pockets of the Generals who enriched themselves at the expense of the entire people of Burma.

This certainly violates the nation’s constitution as well as the fundamental Panglong Agreement, or the Independence national day declaration by discrimination and restriction of freedom. Society’s support of this fundamentalist and pro-domination trend is always a problem for nation building. It apparently led to the failure of civilian rule. In such an event, the intervention of the military is appropriate to prevent extremists taking power. But here the military also became the partner of extremist Myanmar. The people later realized they were linked with each other.

Slowly, we discovered that the Tatmadaw initially, immediately reorganized the army and later held a coup to form the Socialist party, with the purpose of monopolizing military power and controlling the country. Looking back, the behaviour of the Tatmadaw was not about creating a resolution for democracy, but rather about having lasting political power and control of the country. Hence it was again the very grain of democracy and union spirit (Pyidaungsu Seikdat). When the military took power on Sept 19th, 1988 after killing more than three to four thousand s people, it was not about the ethnics but about the issue of democracy and the majority of the Myanmar nationalities participated. This is the authenticated proof that the Tatmadaw is not only against the Union spirit but also against Democracy and Human Rights.

According to logic, if and when, conflicts between the Myanmar dominant group and other ethnic groups arise, within the system of civilian rule, the Tatmadaw should protect and be responsible for their reunification if it claims to be the mentor of the nation instead of aiding the ethnic-cleansing of the other ethnic groups. The Tatmadaw should play an impartial role if it is really the people’s army.

Now it is clear that the military intervenes to protect and advance the interests of a specific class and a religious group, the Myanmar Buddhist. The Tatamadaw is systematically maintaining power itself to control the civilian population. This is raison d’être of allegedly removing the federal army battalions as the Shan, Chin and Kachin Regiments. The Tadmadaw was also hand-in-glove with the Myanmar extremists helping to exploit and collapse other ethnic societies. This is another regrettable mistake in the Tatmadaw history and proof beyond doubt that it has no Pyidaungsu Seikdat. Hence it is and was a Mahar Myanmar orientated Tatmadaw.

The Tatmadaw seemed to try to re-assume democracy in the 27 May 1990 election. But when the result were declared it was clear that people did not approve of the army being in power. So they refused to give up power .The Tatmadaw has tasted power for a long period that it cannot let it go even after 2010 elections they still hold on to the form of ex generals and handpicked people and surely will stay on in power with this unreasonable constitution . Hence Tatmadaw is in the category of the enemy of the people of Burma and the country itself. Now it is by trick that they are trying to organise the dissident Myanmar and not the ethnic nationalities. The only option is for the people to unite and fights back and until and unless there is serious or any damaging opposition armed attack, their attitude is unlikely to change. The Tatmadaw has cheated the public several times as it is doing now. This is a trap for the Burmese people as the military always blocks efforts to obtain civilian rule. The Burmese people have lost the opportunity of having a civilian administration and their liberty, for more than half a century. Hence even in a guided democracy as it is today Thein Sein cannot control the army.

Furthermore, in a democratic system, the concern is to ensure a professional and political military that acknowledges civilian authority and executes the orders of a democratically elected government. These seem to be only one way if we were to follow President Obama’s speech acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize, “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms,” can be demonstratively applied to Burma—a nonviolent movement could not have halted Burmese armies. Negotiations cannot convince Burmese feudal warlords and thugs to lay down their arms.[3]

The Burmese Junta craved for its legitimacy so much that they cannot even take a sense of humour, nor do they appreciate being laughed at. It came as no surprise then when the ruling military regime in Burma sentenced the country’s best known comedian, named Zarganar, to 45 years in prison. Even though he is released it painted an astonishingly brutal campaign to eradicate all political opposition The Junta had sentences for two reasons. The first is to decapitate any possibility of challenge to a tightly scripted and controlled political reform process, by locking away the leadership and spiritual and artistic supporters of resistance to military rule. The second is to instil fear in an already fearful and beaten down population; by targeting a cross-section of Burma’s resurgent civil society, the regime is stating clearly that resistance is futile.[4]

The relation between the military-ruled state and civilians is highly coercive and makes any expression of public dissent for civilians a matter of life and death. The military is unable to distinguish between citizens and enemies of the state was confirmed during the uprising in September 2007, when even marching monks were perceived as nothing but “state enemies” that have to be defeated. This perception is underpinned by an institutionalised elitism and a general disdain for civilians and politicians in the upper echelon of the Tatmadaw that goes back to the 1950s.The involvement in administrative, political, and economic matters nourished the idea of extensive competencies within the military.[5]

The ruling regime prevented the emergence of any independent social and political organisation, and tried to subdue the citizenry further into an invisible entity, totally compliant and mute.[6] A coherent strategy or consistent method in dealing with civil society is not discernible. The regime’s Home Ministry and the Ministry of Culture made an attempt to shutdown independent and community-based social, cultural, religious, and ethnic organisations in Rangoon in 2007. In general, the regime intervenes whenever its threat perception is raised, usually when an independent organisation or individual becomes too successful and attracts too many members or followers. The most famous example is the Rangoon based Free Funeral Services Organisation that is continually harassed due to its successful charity work.

On the other hand the regime tries to define and control civil society exclusively through government sponsored organisations like the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, Myanmar Fire Brigade, Myanmar Red Cross Society, and so on, which are led by active and retired military officers and organises mass rallies, conducts military training, and undertakes social and community services.[7] It is increasingly involved in policing measures and harassment of activists aided by a militia group, Swan Ah Shin “Owners of Vigour” Both organisations took part in the crackdown of the demonstrators in the monk-led uprising in September 2007.[8]

Tatmadaw have mocks the very idea of democracy and fundamental freedoms. The regime thrives on frustration and lack of attention, happily repressing its people in quiet. If we do not loudly and strongly condemn this draconian process, hundreds of Burma’s leading thinkers and performers will disappear into the country’s squalid gulag, and the ephemeral promise of a liberal and free Burma could well be lost to another generation. Hence it is very vivid that Tatmadaw is the only stumbling block against the Pyidaungsu the Union of Burma and against democracy itself. Those who argue that Tatamadaw should be retained against the external threat of the country should consider the above facts. Once this enemy Number One, Tatamadaw is gone, then peace, sovereignty, unity with love will return to Burma.

[1] Mann, Zarni: Suu Kyi Delivers Message of Trust, Respect in Myitkyina Irrawaddy 24-2-2-12
[2] Wai;Kyaw San Beyond Ceasefires: Burma’s Precarious Peace Process – Analysis RSIS, Nanyang Technological University
[3] Zaw, Aung; “ Oslo’s Message” Irrawaddy, Dec 17th 2009
[4] Mathieson; David Scott,. “No time for Jokes” in National Post
[5] Nyein; Susanne Prager; Expanding military, Shrinking citizenry and the New Constitution
Journal of Contemporary Asia Vol.39, No. 4, November 2009, pp.638-648.
[6] At the time of this writing, over 2,000 dissidents and members of the political opposition are under detention, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is under detention.
[7] See Steinberg; David Turmoil in Burma. Contested Legitimacies in Myanmar, Norwalk: East Bridge, 2006: 46, 93
[8] P. Pinheiro, Report of the Special Rapporteur Pinheiro, 11. December 2007, Geneva: Human Rights Council, 2007.

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