WHO IS A PROBLEM IN BURMA? – After the trial of Daw Aung san Suu Kyi by Mikael Gravers

14. Aug 2009

The suspended sentence and the 18 month house arrest for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came after international pressure and are probably heavily influenced by China since it has urged the international community to respect Burmese law!However, the delay of the verdict may also be a result of and internal difference within the junta. Snr. General Than Shwe who asked the West not to interfere with the Burmese judicial system – interfered and changed the verdict seems to have insisted on using a decree on subversion of the state while the more pragmatic no. 3 in the Junta, General Shwe Mann, who is designated to become president after the elections in 2010, is said to have suggested the application of ‘Burmese law’. Probably he and his faction feared civil unrest and negative international reactions – or he could see how ridiculous it is to accuse a person of subversive activities, who is behind barbed wires, without telephone or other contacts and guarded by soldiers and intelligence personnel, and of cooperation with an obviously mentally disturbed American intruder. Now, could the ‘lenient’ sentence be a signal of a dialogue? Hardly, and many Burmese speculate if Than Shwe’s astrologer again is the architect of the junta’s decisions. The number eleven is said to be the General’s lucky number and the verdict came on 11 August at 11 a.m. I suppose General Than Shwe feared internal dissatisfaction in the military as well as civil unrest. Thus he kindly allowed Aung San Suu Kyi television and newspapers in her soon 15 years of house arrest. In the end, the regime certainly agrees to keep her from influencing the elections. And The National League for Democracy will probably not participate if she and other party activists are behind bars. However, the position of the NLD has provoked critical reactions. In The Guardian (11.11.08 – not Than Shwe figures!) she was accused of moral highhandedness and poor leadership. A few days ago, Singapore’ PM said ‘she is part of the problem’, and The Economist (28.07.09) concluded that she has prevented economic development by supporting sanctions. Without economic development the middle classes remain weak and thus cannot support a democratic evolution according to the argument. The last part, I think, is unfair and neglects the military’s role in ruining the economy. Besides, middle class people may support a not so democratic military intervention against an elected but dictatorial PM as recently in Thailand. Is she and not Than Shwe and his astrologer the problem? Basically, the problem is than both opposition and the regime doesn’t move and compromise.  As long as Than Shwe’s faction dominates the military there will be no significant changes. Therefore, a coherent and detailed strategy from the NLD is badly needed in order to appeal to the younger, pragmatic officers and disperse fear of a universal revenge against the military and of foreign domination in case of a change. That many Burmese fear fragmentation, chaos and foreign domination in an unplanned regime shift is perhaps a result of long isolation, historical experience and nationalist rhetoric – yet it has to be taken seriously. The NLD must put forward a comprehensive plan which include all parties: the military, the new generation of opposition  such as The  All Burma Monks Alliance, Wave Generation, the students, and in particular the many ethnic organizations of the ethnic nationalities as well as the numerous groups and organizations in exile. Sanctions must be suspended at the first substantial positive move from the military; humanitarian assistance and development aid should be planned and implemented fast. Without a clear plan, the NLD may soon be moribund as the article in the Guardian predicted after the young generation’s rebellion in 2007. As for 2010, the military is a big step in front with their constitution even if it is a Potemkin village for a continued military totalitarian rule. Who is then the problem? Aung San Suu Kyi is definitely not. But the fact that political power is seen as a property fixed in (two) individuals – with or without astrological aid – inhibits the production of coherent political plans and reduces the political discourse to brief Orwellian ‘newspeak’ slogans. Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi are thus both part of a solution, and it is urgent to open up for a multi-voiced dialogue and process reconciliation.