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Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13- Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

So Burma's junta has decided to realease Aung San Suu Chi. Too good to be true? True, but perhaps not as good as it appears. First, we have to remember that Burmese national consciousness goes back to King Auanghpaya (1714-1760)- not long before the British took over. Burma became independent in 1948 and the old, autocratic sense of nationhood was inherited by by the current regime, founded in 1962 by General U Ne Win, with an ideology called The Burmese Way to Socialism, a concoction of Marxism, Buddhism and nationalism. The question is, how on earth do you maintain a strange monster like that with a democracy? The answer is, you don't- you fnd ways of keeping the outside world and  potential trading partners happy with gestures that look democratic. And we should be warned- they've done it before. Prime Minister Nyut was allowed to lay out a road map for democracy in 2004 but ended up under house arrest after it appeared he was serious.

The latest move has been to release of the great leader and symbol of Burmese democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest. Her party boycotted the elections since the electoral laws have made it almost impossible for any parties, outside the government party, to win. And that's the way it remains. So instead of democracy you have a sort of democratic movement, parallel to the government and to which the generals might even offer gestures of respect. Sort of like church and state. Admittedly, there has been pressure from other quarters.

The Obama regime has been working on a new US policy of direct engagement, desperate as it is to out-do China's huge trading power and influence with the Burmese junta. That means the US is offering conditions for removing sanctions in return for impovements in democracy, human rights etc.. And Voila- Aung San can actually move around among her supporters. But why now? The country is suffering economically. But also, and perhaps more important, Aung San's democracy movement was weakened before the election when a faction split away to participate in the vote, on the government's terms. The Junta may actually ne looking for a third way or middle road- an appearacne of compromise that would keep them in power but now with a sham democratic opposition suborned from Aung San Suu Kyi's own party, with just enough compromise to make it look all right. 

- Hugh Graham
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