By Ko Ko Thett
Editor's note: Ko Ko Thett is a
Mass movements and revolutions, informed and inspired by the 1988 overthrow of the Burma Socialist Program Party, have made no headway since 1988. While each failed mass movement has had tragic human costs to the lives of individuals involved in it, the regime's weathering of each storm seems to have prepared them better for the next.
The new Burmese capital of Naypyidaw is now conveniently located at least 300 kilometers from each of the most populous cities, Rangoon in the South and Mandalay in the North, so people power cannot come near the government's seat of power.
The country's economy in real terms has worsened for the bottom 50 million, and the increased polarization of wealth offers little hope for those who argue "economy precedes politics."
The hardship for the people was so great even the sangha, who are supposed to be above the mundane world, came out en masse in late 2007, in what would be known as the Saffron Revolution.
The recent series of sit-ins for higher wages by
Whereas the Burmese regime has made the best of its
geopolitics and regionalization vis-à-vis the Asean countries,
The staunch opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi has been the "voice of hope" for the politically minded section of the society and their Western supporters, but they have not shaken the regime since government functionaries at large remain unaffected. It can be argued that the "unaffectedness" has been caused by the regime's systematic persecution that is designed to isolate charismatic dissidents from the people. Inevitably, the Burmese opposition, as well as their Western supporters, are handy scapegoats that the regime can blame for its own failures.
The entrenched and institutionalized conflict between the
ethnic autonomy groups and the central regime has also served as a way for the
Burmese military to justify its militarist expansionist policies. Even natural
and man-made calamities of great magnitude, such as Cyclone Nargis and the
Make no mistake. The regime's initiative, the "Road Map to Democracy," does not offer a glimmer of hope. All institutions advocated by the author Robert Dahl as vital for any large-scale democracy: elected officials, free fair and frequent elections, freedom of expressions, alternative sources of information, associational autonomy, inclusive citizenship, are nowhere to be found on the Road Map, except for "elected officials" who are widely anticipated to be elected in a controlled, regime-friendly parliament. In addition, the threat of another military coup always lurks beneath the current Constitution. Another putsch means going back to the late 1980s, if not the early 1960s.
Yet no matter how well prepared the regime is, the 2010 elections, and all the elections thereafter, will not be foolproof. Inasmuch as the looming elections have cornered the opposition into a "double bind," the regime is also acutely aware that it is walking a tight rope holding a balancing pole they call the 2008 Constitution. The regime has to balance between two inherently contradictory quests: one for national and international legitimacy and the other for the top generals' need to remain as sole arbitrators of state power, which is essential for them to be able to avoid the fate of fallen dictators.
If the elections are free, fair, and inclusive, as the international community insists, the regime risks losing a bigger-than-expected slide of their power--even within the current constitutional context. If the elections are not free and fair, the regime will be met with continued international condemnation and local resistance, a continuation of the status quo.
It would not be surprising if the generals in Naypyidaw are as apprehensive about the 2010 elections as the opposition itself. Perhaps, the opposition should treat the 2010 elections as an opportunity for change, including much desired constitutional change.
If history is any guide, elections all over the world have undermined colonial and authoritarian systems, rather than entrenched them. Elections, even defined and sponsored by repressive regimes for their own sake, usually backfire since they tend to arouse political debate, increase political awareness, and promote people's participation in politics.