Does Myanmar Need a Revolution?

The conflict in Rakhine State has brought immense international attention to Myanmar and its emerging democracy. Over 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar because of violence committed by the military and Rakhine Buddhists. While the situation is complex, with a deep history and violence committed by both parties, the international party has been quick to blame the Myanmar government, military, and specifically Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to denounce the violence committed by the military and refuses to refer to the Rohingya as Rohingya, preferring the term Bengalis. She has remained vague about the conflict, at best.

In defense of Aung San Suu Kyi, scholars and experts claim that she has little control over the military’s actions, and thus, she cannot be to blame for the conflict. While Aung San Suu Kyi could have made efforts to change public perceptions of the Rohingya, these scholars’ and experts’ claims are accurate.

The current government is operating under the constitution that was drafted by the military in 2008. The constitution grants the military 25% of the seats in parliament where 75% of parliament needs to vote in favor of any amendment to the constitution. This ensures that no changes can be granted to the constitution without the approval of the military. The military also operates Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Border Affairs (responsible for border conflicts and citizenship), and Ministry of Home Affairs. The commander-in-chief of the military also has authority over the president and even in times of emergency has the authority to take over the government.

Recently, the military has committed acts of violence causing thousands of citizens to flee their homes in Kachin, Karen, and Shan States. Aung San Suu Kyi released a statement on May 1st stating “[v]iolence has no place in a democratic Myanmar.” [1] However, in reality, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have little to no control over the violence in the country, especially the violence committed by the military. The ethnic rebel groups have been rebelling against the government since the end of the British colonization in 1948, but armistices had been made between some of the groups with the military including the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed in 2015. These armistices were clearly broken, and Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD only have control over creating laws and changing public perception to reduce violence, but how can citizens have faith in the laws of the government if the military acts above the law?

Essentially, any democratization progress is dependent on the military’s cooperation and the eventual release of the military’s political power. This seems fairly unpromising considering the military’s history for loving power and control and committing acts of Burmanization (Burma nationalism policies that work to eliminate ethnic differences in an attempt to homogenous the country under a Bamar ethnicity). If anything, the military has every incentive to slow the country’s progress towards democracy and has little incentive to ever truly relinquish its political control; thus, it seems like a revolution is needed.

However, any attempt at a revolution would be quickly crushed by the military. The military has decades of experiences at quelling protests and political movements and arresting political leaders. It has also become one of the strongest militaries in Southeast Asia with 14% of the government budget being spent on defense amounting to about 3% of national GDP. [2] The military has over 400,000 active troops. [3] In the end, Myanmar’s democracy remains at the hands of the military.

 


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