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The 1990 Election: Sorting Fact from Fiction

As election day approaches, it is worth remembering what happened the last time Burma had a free and fair poll, says Bertil Lintner.


As election day approaches, it is worth remembering what happened 25 years ago, the last time Burma had a free and fair poll—and by regional standards, that election was astonishingly free and fair. But the euphoria of May 27, 1990, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) scored a landslide victory, turned into dismay and frustration when, exactly two months later, on July 27, 1990, the then ruling junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), issued “Announcement 1/90” declaring that only the junta “has the right to legislative power”—and that “the representatives elected by the people” would merely be “responsible for drafting a new constitution for a future democratic state.” I and other journalists who covered events in Burma remember the disbelief we felt at the time. Could that really be true? Among the Burmese people inside the country who we contacted, there was outright anger. “1/90” contradicted earlier promises by the SLORC and what was a very clear election result.

As early as on Sept. 22, 1988— four days after the military had formed SLORC and brutally put an end to more than a month of daily demonstrations for democracy—Burma’s powerful intelligence chief and Secretary-1 in the new junta, (then) Brig.-Gen. Khin Nyunt had pledged before a meeting with foreign military attachés in Rangoon: “Elections will be held as soon as law and order has been restored and the Defence Services would then systematically hand over power to the party which wins.” (quoted from SWB, FE/0265 1, 24 Sep 1988) He did not say a word about the need to draft a new constitution.

On May 31, 1989, so about a year before the election, the SLORC passed “Law 14/89” which, according to the announcement “shall be called the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law.” A Pyithu Hluttaw in Burmese is a “people’s assembly”, in other words, a parliament. According to the 1974 Constitution, which had been promulgated by a previous military regime, “The Pyithu Hluttaw is the highest organ of state power. It exercises sovereign powers of the State on behalf of the people.” A constituent assembly, on the other hand, is not a Pyithu Hluttaw but a Thaing Pyi Pyu Hluttaw, as in the Myanma naing-ngan Thaing Pyi Pyu Hluttaw, the body that drafted Burma’s first constitution in 1947. That term was never used before the May 1990 election.

But this has not prevented many foreign observers from claiming otherwise in more recent times, thus distorting the whole purpose of the 1990 election. Most recently, Geoffrey Goddard, an Australian journalist and a former editor at the Myanmar Times, wrote in the April 2015 issue of the Mizzima Weekly that the 1990 election was not for “a parliament. It was an election for a constituent assembly.” And who were the sources Goddard referred to? Derek Tonkin, a retired British diplomat who more than anybody else has been busy rewriting history, and Robert Taylor, a well-known defender of successive authoritarian regimes in Burma.

An even more extreme view is held by Kristoffer Rønneberg, a Norwegian journalist, who stated in his recent book Veien to Mandalay: En reise fra Burma til Myanmar (“The Road to Mandalay: A Journey from Burma to Myanmar”) that “there are many people today who believe that the election was about a new government…this myth has been used by activists and oppositionists since 1990…the election was about a constituent assembly…this was known by everyone who took part in the election.”

Michael Lidauer, a German academic, writes in Burma/Myanmar: Where Now?, a book published last year by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies: “Immediately prior to the polls, SLORC announced that it would only hand over power to a civilian government after a new constitution had been written. This process lasted for two decades.” His source? Derek Tonkin. Hans-Berndt Zöllner, another German writer, states in his The Beast and the Beauty that “material” from the time “clearly supports Tonkin’s conclusion.”

This falsified version of history has even found its way into Wikipedia: “The elections were not meant to form a parliamentary government, but rather to form a parliament sized constitutional committee to draft a new constitution.” The reference here is to pages 90-93 in Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know, a well-written book by American Burma scholar David Steinberg. But on those pages Steinberg writes only that “the junta had publicly stated almost a year before the election that those elected could not form a government until there was a new constitution.” Steinberg is not more precise than that and it is uncertain when and how the SLORC stated such a thing, which would be contrary to everything else that was said at the time.

On Jan. 18, 1989, I and several other Bangkok-based journalists were flown to Burma on a trip organized by Burma’s military authorities, and on that day we had a meeting with Col. Ye Htut from the SLORC’s information committee (not to be confused with the current minister of information with the same name). He stated clearly and unambiguously that “as soon as elections have been held, we will hand over power to the party that wins and return to the barracks.” I asked him if they would do so even in the event of an NLD victory. The colonel replied: “Of course, we are soldiers and keep our word. We will return to the barracks.” Present at that time was, apart from myself, the regional bureau chief of the Associated Press and other foreign correspondents.

Khin Nyunt, as head of intelligence, probably knew more about public sentiments than any of the other members of SLORC. He had begun to realize that the NLD was going to win.”

Gen. Saw Maung, the SLORC chairman, said on Jan. 9, 1990 at a meeting between the central junta and its local divisions held “at the office of the Commander-in-Chief”: “We have spoken about the matter of State power. As soon as the election is held, form a government according to law and then take power. An election has to be held to bring forth a government. That is our responsibility. But the actual work of forming a legal government after the election is not the duty of the Tatmadaw [the military]. We are saying it very clearly and candidly right now.” That speech was reproduced in full in the Jan. 10, 1990 issue of the official organ, The Working People’s Daily.

Drafting a new constitution was not an issue before the election. On the contrary, Gen. Saw Maung even lashed out against the NLD for raising the issue of a constitution—which some of its activists were doing at the time. In a speech on May 10, 1990—two weeks prior to the election—Gen. Saw Maung stated: “A dignitary who was once an Attorney-General talked about the importance of the constitution. As our current aim is to hold the election as scheduled we cannot as yet concern ourselves with the Constitution as mentioned by that person. Furthermore it is not our concern. A new Constitution can be drafted. An old Constitution can also be used after some amendments.” (sic., Working People’s Daily, May 11, 1990).

“That person” was former Attorney-General U Hla Aung, who was close to the NLD and, at the time, researching constitutional issues for the pro-democracy movement. I met him in Rangoon in February 1989 and spent a whole afternoon with him. He showed me how the 1947 Constitution could be used with certain amendments, and I remember the huge chart he put on the table in his home in a Rangoon suburb. It was impressive—but the SLORC didn’t think so. They told him to shut up.

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So what statement could Steinberg possibly be referring to in his book, which was quoted by Wikipedia? Burma’s then powerful intelligence chief, Maj-Gen Khin Nyunt, made a curious statement, not “almost a year before the election”, but on April 13, 1990, so just over a month before the election. According to him: “The Cabinet cannot be formed just after the election…the Cabinet is to be formed in accordance with the constitution.” That day, Reuters quoted a diplomat in Rangoon as describing the statement as “the first categorically saying that the military won’t hand over power until a constitution is in place…it is the fist showing through the velvet glove.”

Khin Nyunt, as head of intelligence, probably knew more about public sentiments than any of the other members of SLORC. He had begun to realize that the NLD was going to win—and this was the way out of the looming predicament. Not much attention was paid to Khin Nyunt’s statement, which clearly contradicted what he had said in 1988. But we in the media who were following events in Burma concluded that this would be the excuse if the NLD won. Our suspicions, which we wrote about at the time, have in more recent years been used by Tonkin to “prove” that the election was for a constituent assembly and not a parliament. The diplomat quoted by Reuters remarked that drafting a new constitution could delay the process by “months, perhaps years,” and Suu Kyi had already expressed similar fears the previous year, in an interview with Asiaweek before she was placed under house arrest in July 1989.

At the same time, it is worth remembering what Robert Taylor said before, as opposed to after, the 1990 election when he also began writing about a “constituent assembly”. In a lengthy article in the March 1990 issue of Current History, Taylor wrote: “The elections are to select a new national assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) but it is not clear how and when the military will pass power to a government formed under the elected legislature…but no one familiar with Burma’s political history expects the military to abandon all its administrative and political functions after the formation of a new government.”

So, according to Taylor, the elections was definitely for a Pyithu Hluttaw, a legislature”, and not a constituent assembly. The only question was when the new government would be formed. Taylor could safely write what he did because he also stated this about the military-backed National Unity Party, the successor to the Burma Socialist Program Party, the only legally permitted party from after the military takeover in 1962 until 1988: “Many observers feel that it will do well in the election.” The argument at the time was that the NLD may be strong in urban areas, whereas in the countryside people would vote for “the devil they know”.

Taylor could not have been more wrong. When the votes were counted after the 1990 election, the NLD captured 392 out of 485 contested seats—all over the country, in urban as well as rural areas. By comparison, the NUP secured only 10 seats. It may be argued that the NUP, after all, got a bit over 20 per cent of the popular vote, but only a tiny fraction of the seats because Burmese elections are not proportional. But no matter how one looks at it, the NUP was routed—and the military had to create an entirely new political platform, that, in 1993, became the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was renamed the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in 2010.

The issue at stake, of course, is that Khin Nyunt was right: the NLD had massive support, the “wrong” party had won, so the rules had to change. Within days of his July 27, 1990 announcement, his military intelligence—which was more of secret police than an actual intelligence service—launched a massive campaign against elected NLD MPs. By the end of the year, 65 had been arrested, nearly a dozen had fled to neighboring countries such as Thailand and India, and many resigned voluntarily. Does anyone seriously believe that all this would have happened if the NUP had won the election? The elected Pyithu Hluttaw would no doubt have been convened within days and a new government formed, an interim one awaiting the drafting of a new constitution.

But now, the elected Pyithu Hluttaw was never convened and, in the end, the elected assembly wasn’t even a Thaing Pyi Pyu Hluttaw. About 100 of the 485 MPs elected were to sit in a “National Convention” together with 600 other, non-elected representatives who had been handpicked by the military. And even if one accepts the notion that a new constitution would have to be drafted before the military could return to the barracks, the new legislature would have been vested with that task, not some obscure 700-person “National Convention”. Not even Tonkin and Taylor have the audacity to claim that anything like that was announced by Burma’s military authorities before the election. And contrary to what writers like Rønneberg believe, no one who took part in the 1990 election expected that to happen when they went to the polls 25 years ago.

On his Network Myanmar website, Tonkin suggests that in October 1990, when “Daw Myint Myint Khin, a senior official of the NLD, signed on behalf of the NLD an undertaking to attend a National Convention to draft a new Constitution, the NLD had effectively surrendered its claim to have secured a mandate to govern at the May 1990 Elections.” But he fails to mention that Daw Myint Myint Khin, who had been a very principled pro-democracy activist during the 1988 uprising, had come under immense pressure to sign that statement, and that she subsequently resigned her position as member of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee.

So what are the lessons we can draw from events before and after the 1990 election? The first would be that promises and pledges mean next to nothing when an election result is not to the liking of Burma’s military authorities. And if there are manipulations and threats, and the rules are changed at the whim of those in power, it is not unlikely that some time in the future we will find the same or another cabal of assorted apologists and sycophants telling us that the 2015 election actually wasn’t about what we thought it was, but something totally different.

20 Comments
Norman Hla

Dear BERTIL LINTNER
You can remind all of the ordinary Burmese again that how we need to understand about the worst ethical and moral principle in bama military thugs in the aspects of 1990 election as well as their cruel rules in Burma decades and decades to make Burma the world poorest country. But they still have no insight in themselves because of their psychopath and serial killers, now fox than shwe and his USDP in their personality.
In this coming election 2005, fox have already occupied 25% of rubbish bama parliament seats with ogre bama private army personals. Those thugs will try DASSK not to get landslide victory. Those thugs only worries about all ethnics with guns, not worries people power. They will arrest all NLD members with the various fringed crimes just before election. Those thugs will be ready with their killers para military guys in stand by for this coming election. Prominent NLD members will be disappeared from their homes with the help of psy wirathu (Ma Ba thur) and para military criminals just before election. Those thugs will and can change the ruling laws and the governement names any time, any reason and any where to cheat all ordinary Burmese, even rich and strong China. Those thugs dare to kill monks and innocent local Muslim children for the interest of power griping in this 21st century. We all fed up to read and listen those bama military thugs words and performance (bribe, suppression of local Mulsim) in this coming election.

Reply
TineYinThar

Thanks for the history lesson but I always believe that “history is written by the victors.” and not to be trusted. Victors vs. losers vs. survivors version of history will be entirely different.

The same goes for Myanmar elections history – it depends on whom you ask. As the article suggests, Mr Linter, Mr Steinberg and Mr Tonkin all seem to recall differently on what was being said and who said it and when. Each of them will try to find points to argue the ideologies and views that they support, regardless of what is actually true. There was no internet, video or voice recording to capture the real truth, it’s a matter of he said, she said.
No offence but I tend to believe Myanmar scholars who actually witness the period and understand the culture, more so than fly-in and-out arm-chair journalists and academics. Just to give an example, this Myanmar scholar gives an entirely different view on the same topic. He said it’s NLD who boycotted the drafting of the constitution reform, so now they are in the current predicament. I don’t know enough to defute his point. http://www.staradvertiser.com/editorials/20110204_Reality_in_Burma_differs_from_myths.html

So just leave history as the past and people should not allow history to dictate the future. However, one can argue that you can’t totally ignore what had happened because there’s some sort of path dependency that is happening but trying to make corrections on who said what, when and where is a worthless effort. How much greater the odds that the “truth” of events 50-60 years ago are different from the ones we hold now? That should not dissuade us from writing histories, but it should make us cautious about taking action based on historical “truths.”

Military as an institution has stood firm in the test of time (rather unfairly most citizens would say) but individuals behind the scenes have changed and so has the environment domestically and internationally. It seems to me that Mr Linter has no access to current government/military leaders, since he likes to keep bringing up Khin Nyunt and Saw Maung or ghosts of the past era, as if their actions today matter and they still have deciding power and influences in the political scene, which is far from the truth. Than Shwe to some extent have some influence but do you really think an 80+ old man has mental capacity that is agile and capable and that understands the dynamics of the current political situation? All he probably cares about is his life and family assets be protected for eternity and military to continue staying in charge in Myanmar. It doesn’t mean he’s literally plotting and planning every minute to add more demise to the people. I very much doubt it.

Just like the individual personalities of ASSK, Khin Nyunt, Saw Maung and Than Shwe affected the way the history happened, it will be different personalities taking charge today and running the government on a daily basis, Min Aung Hlaing, Thein Sein, Soe Thane, Shwe Mann, Htay Oo, Aung Min, etc. (perhaps in some limited way Than Shwe _ I would consider as the sitting but not acting ‘patron’) and several other influential people from ethnic groups and private business sectors. I’d rather read and understand more about how these key personalities will react to ASSK and NLD, if they win and whether their individual beliefs and interests would somehow progress the country but allowing for NLD/ASSK to transfer power over (or) play a larger role in the next government. Let the old people from the past RIP. I don’t give a rat’s tooth about what those guys said and did, exactly when. You can take your little fight with other foreign experts somewhere else.

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Kml2013

This process is a vicious cycle of “uprising, election, intimidation, excuses, coup” in every 25 years cycle after independence. I am not sure this time. I am not pessimistic, but some candidates may attend INSEIN and THAYET guest houses instead of Hluttaw building in Nay Pyi Taw. Another 100 days is critical juncture of Burmese history. But smart phone , internet and facebook give thumbs down to people with authoritarian mind sets!

Reply
Greg Pieters

You’ve forgotten that there was a “distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack knocking the internet down ” starting for 25 October through the last (2010) election period.

Reply
Derek Tonkin

Bertil Lintner has a very short memory.

In three articles which he wrote in the ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’ prior to the 27 May 1990 elections, he confirmed what everyone knew: that the elections were not to a governing parliament, but to a constituent assembly. In this view, he was supported by every Western journalist covering the elections at the time. For the record, here are extracts from his three articles:

Far Eastern Economic Review – 3 August 1989
“Political Phoenix: Government Party mobilises for 1990 elections”: Bertil Lintner
“When it seized power last September, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) declared it would step down once the promised elections have been held. However, the state-run Working People’s Daily on 10 June backtracked on that promise, saying the 1990 elections are going to be for a constituent assembly that will draft a new constitution which will have to be approved. After that, new elections will be held and the SLORC will transfer its powers to an elected government. This augurs another one to two years of military rule.”

Far Eastern Economic Review – 18 January 1990: Bertil Lintner
“The Election Charade: Government eliminates liberal poll contenders”
“Despite the oppression and the apparent manipulations of the SLORC, 2,134 candidates have registered to contest the elections, including 72 independents and 2,071 from 97 political parties. They are seeking seats in a 489-member national assembly whose duty will be to draft a new constitution before a second set of elections are held. Meanwhile, the SLORC will remain in power, which will give it more leeway if the first round of elections do [does] not produce the desired result.”

Far Eastern Economic Review – 24 May 1990: Bertil Linter
“Catch-22 poll: No one is sure for what or for whom they are voting”
“The SLORC in effect suspended Burma’s old constitution when it assumed power in 1988 – an indication that the upcoming elections will in fact be for a constituent assembly, not a parliament. Diplomats say it might take up to two years to write a new constitution, have it approved by a referendum and then hold fresh elections. Meanwhile, the military will remain in power.”

It is not I, but Bertil Lintner who has rewritten history. He has even gone so far as to deny his own writings, even what he wrote three days before the elections took place!

Those who are seriously interested in this issue are invited to read “Elections – 27 May 1990” (link top left of networkmyanmar.com). This relates how the SLORC broke their earlier and repeated promises to hand over power to the election winners well before the elections took place – not after. Precisely as Bertil Lintner himself had predicted, though he is now in a state of denial about his own prediction.

Reply
Bertil Lintner

“They are seeking seats in a 489-member national assembly whose duty will be to draft a new constitution before a second set of elections are held.” Yes, a national assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw, a legislature) made up of those MPs who were elected on May 27, 1990, not the 100 elected plus 600 appointed by the military that the SLORC eventually convened. Or is Tonkin suggesting that the SLORC said that before the election, and not after the result became known? If so, when and where did anyone say that? Don’t twist the facts, Tonkin.

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Derek Tonkin

Bertil. You must surely know how irritated and frustrated Suu Kyi and the NLD were when they read the final text of the Pyithu Hluttaw Law. See their comments at http://tinyurl.com/njsfxkx . It was clear to them (and to you and to every other foreign observer) that there was to be no transfer of power after the elections and that the “Pyithu Hluttaw” would be no more than an emasculated Constituent Assembly.

In the weeks before the elections, not only did you say so yourself, but so did every other foreign correspondent from The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, The Independent, The New York Times, The Economist etc. The Burmese people no doubt hoped against hope that power would be transferred into civilian hands, but internationally the view prior to the elections was unanimous: this would not happen.

I would earnestly suggest that before you write again on the 1990 Elections, you should read carefully through the collected papers at http://tinyurl.com/nqz7kcn which show exactly who said what and when. It might then dawn on you that it is you are the odd man out, not the rest of us.

Reply
Aung

Well, my take…
We do need to look back at historical events to have some insight that could prepare for the events of the future. It is good to listen to what Lintner, Taylor, Steinberg, Tonkin says, as they do make points to note from their researches, efforts, etc., although they may be referred to by some as armchair journalists (everybody has the right to earn his/her living by doing what he/she knows to do). It is also most important what now and next.
Let me go back to 1980-ties if not earlier than that time. We must look at the forest, not just the trees. By that time BSP party and government has bankrupted the nation and Ne Win needed a way out, a soft landing. He planned for the multi-party system and to start the ‘ reform ‘ as is being done now. The so-called Road Map started then and there, not declared publically yet, as far as I understand. He offered amnesty to old political foes and Nu returned from exile. Nu was given the hint by Ne Win of the intention for multi-part system, and Nu started to organize his follows for it. Typically Ne Win and his inner circle still prepared to make their party win. But one thing was Ne Win was facing resistance from the hardline factions of his own BSP party, who insisted the BSP could go alone without the multi-party system. At that time we all remembered about the mysterious 32 pages and movements by (ex-brigadier) Aung Gyi. There was no ASSK then. If the BSP had some vision and let in about 20% of the opposition the people would probably accept at that time and situation and the BSP and the regime might survive to go on with the roadmap and reform.
Anyhow Ne Win was taking too long to prepare and then he made the fatal mistake of de-monetizing the banknotes, which hit the people’s wallet and stomach very hard. So came the great 88 flare up, led by the very brave young students. Ne Win and the military were then in uncharted waters. They have fought the armed insurgencies since independence, have survived the charges of the BCP hordes in the North-east, but never yet faced a rebellion of a whole country, of their own people.
Things unfold as we have witnessed, but all the time the road map was still the intention, although not declared yet. The 1990 election was part of the road map then, to get NUP win and then drew the constitution. But then came ASSK, she was unlike the then old politicians such as Nu, unlike BSP/NUP, no past political taints or enemies, clean, untainted, someone the people wanted to start afresh with. And lead the people is what she did, again sending the power holders to uncharted water.
At that time military commanders like Saw Maung, Than Shwe were good soldiers, no corruption, living simple lives and honestly believed themselves to take responsibilities and steer the country out of the crisis.
We all know the 1990 election was a free and fair one, partly due to Saw Maung and his commanders who stayed neutral and he ordered his troops to stay at the barracks during the election time. It is said that sometime after 1990 election Saw Maung approached his boss to report that he had done his responsibility ( up to election) and should he transfer the power to the winners. Reportedly Ne Win took out his revolver and threw it across the table to Saw Maung and said, ‘ You shoot me dead first’ ! There lies the problem with Ne Win, he could not swallow when Nu told him that to amend the 1962 coup he must transfer the power back to Nu (another problem with Nu) and now he could not swallow ASSK had won the election.
ASSK has her share of mistakes; at that time emotions and tempers were high and some factions of her party, including the the ex-military persons, were voicing ‘ justice must be done ‘ which drove the then regime leaders to the siege mentality again. I believe ASSK is not making that mistake now.
So we witness again the post 1990 to 2011 era, with Saw Maung retired, and Than Shwe took over. Than Shwe being more enlightened, declared (although by Khin Nyunt) and carried on with the road map and did what he did. Whatever his failings, he did pull it off the road map and managed the soft landing ( maybe hard landing for the people at large), a feat his boss Ne Win could not achieve.
It is said that after the transfer of power in 2011, Than Shwe invited his former military seniors to his home to feed back that he has completed his responsibilities, passed down by his superiors.
And with the domestic open market in the midst of the country’s rich natural resources, rampant abuse of power and corruption was the name of the game.
What happened to the good guys? They could not immunized themselves from the enticements of the miss-opportunities with all that absolute power entails.
It is said that after the dismantle of the BSP and the old generals retired, Ne Win saw his close subordinate with little savings for their retired life, and said he may missed out something there. Probable taking this hint the generals taking the arduous and un-enviable job of turning the country back to some normalcy during the dangerous times after 1988, they may have started making some provisions for their future, which, without rule of law and self discipline, horribly goes out of control.
Correct me if I’m wrong about the events.
So what now, next? There was no democratic institutions (since BSP time), so no real rule of law, so no clean government, so no fair and just development and share of benefits, so there is no goodwill with the majority of the people, so no satisfaction and stability …
Now there is only one at national level who can stand at the moral high ground, extoll and commit ‘rule of law’ , ‘ clean government’, ‘ fairness ‘, then give it a good and sure chance!

Reply
Per Goller

I have bin a fan of Bertil Lintner for 20 years, – after my first visit to Myanmar. I believe his viewpoints are correct. His analysis of Myanmar and the problems related to SLORC has been internationally accepted. Also by Radio Burma here in Oslo.

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David

Well….all I’ve got to say, to all of the above comments posters, including Bertil Linter of his article, please will all of you people….. “Please stop bringing up the past”.
Bertil Linter has had a lot to say, just about everything in regards to Myanmar ( Burma ) politics, from the day he stuck his nose into the ” Political ” situation in the country.
He may be a good reporter to suit his convenience, if not it’s a different situation.

Now, to all those who above, have posted all sorts of comments, regarding the past, the present, what they know, and mostly not posting what they don’t know, who they want, who they don’t want and what they want. Calling people all sort of names, is just ” Bitching “. Just for youe information it does not work that way.

Well….this is how I see it, ( and it’s only my opinion ). I can not, for crying out loud……Why…Why….has everybody, have to bring up the past. Winge about all that has
happened. The country is ” Moving Forward ” in one months time the whole country is getting the ” Golden Opportunity ” to have their say… I say ” Grab ” it with both hands and make a point of what you want to happen. I am sure that every one knows that, ” Action Speak Louder Than Words “.
Does any one think, that winging, bringin back the past, making excuses and blaming a person or party, is going to ” Help “. I don’t think so. God help that those who do think so.

I say to all these people, to have a ” Positive Attitude “, leave the past in the past. Don’t kep going back to the past. Look forward to a ” Better Future “, and all of you can create and make that big difference.
The biggest, saddest state of affairs is when ever, I read ” Postings ” in any of the news
articals, there is never a posting of ” Positive Attitude ” in regards to moving forward. ther are always ” Negative ” postings and name calling.

Remember, you can ” Never ” be able to change the past but, don’t ever forget, that you can change the ” Future ” and ” Change ” it you can.
So I say, to the people of Myanmar…..Have a “Positive Attitude ” go and cast your ” Vote ” and make the change, and the difference, not only for yourselves but, for the better of the whole country.

I whole heartedly, wish you all the best, of the very best, and ” Trust ” that you, the public will make this election the ” Difference that makes the change “.

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geoffrey goddard

My source for the comment that the 1990 election was to be for a constituent assembly is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, viz: “Whoever is elected will first have to draw up a constitution that will have to be adopted before the transfer of power. They haven’t said how the constitution will be adopted. It could be through a referendum, but that could be months and months, if not years.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, interview with Dominic Faulder in ‘Asiaweek’ 1 July 1989


Reply
Bertil Lintner

But that’s not what happened, the constitution was drawn up by a very different body, and Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t use the term “constituent assembly.” And, when I, before the May 1990 election, wrote that I did not believe that the generals would hand over power to an elected parliament, and that they would use the issue of a constitution to justify their hold on power, the then junta, the SLORC (the then junta) accused me of being “negative” and “pessimistic”. I find it, therefore, amusing that Derek Tonkin now is using what I wrote in 1990 to back up his absurd claim, that the election was not for a Pyithu Hluttaw (a legislature, as Robert Taylor points out, and what the law passed in May 1989 very clearly stated) but for something else.

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Bertil Lintner

The problem here is that Derek Tonkin (who Goddard seems to depend on for his conclusions) is intellectually dishonest. First of all, Tonkin cites what we in the media wrote, which reflected the fact that we were sceptical of the promises and pledges made by the generals before the May 1990 election, as statements by the junta itself. And then he makes no distinction between the assembly that was elected in May 1990 (the “constituent assembly”, as he calls it), which was never convened, and the body that eventually sat down to draft the new constitution, the National Convention (which consisted of 600 delegates handpicked by the military, and only 100 of the altogether 485 MPs elect, so a completely different assembly.) Tonkin is a very strange fellow, I can’t tell if he’s more obsessed with Burma or with just pissing people off in general.

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Derek Tonkin

On the contrary, the historical evidence shows that it is Bertil Lintner who is intellectually dishonest. These days he simply rehashes what he wrote in “Burma in Revolt” pages 382-385 which fails to mention what he had written prior to 27 May 1990 in the Far Eastern Economic Review and what all other leading correspondents without exception had written in their reporting prior to the elections. His “Burma in Revolt” version is the ideologically and politically correct version, reflecting all the attributes of classical denialism – cherry-picking quotations, attributing base motives to your opponents, suggesting even that they are unhinged, overbearing and insulting demeanour.

I am reminded of the French proverb: “Ce chien est méchant. Lorsqu’on l’attaque, il se défend!”. Or as they might say in Sweden : “Denna hund är ond. När du attackerar honom, försvarar han sig!” It wasn’t me who started this. It wasn’t I either.

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Salai Mang

There are native and foreign journalists and scholars closely following and analyzing Burmese politics for many years or even decades, but we the Burmese know from our own bitter experience that Mr. Lintner knows better and probes deeper the depth and complexity of Burmese politics than anyone else, suggesting that we the Burmese listen to him. We are grateful to you, Mr. Lintner, for your deep knowledge and balanced writings on Burmese politics, and we continue to learn from you. I know Robert Taylor quite well and he has unfortunately sacrificed his intellectual integrity when he has been defending the military junta, whom we the Burmese love to hate and hate to love not without reasons.

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Derek Tonkin

In 2004 the distinguished American economist Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, was assailed in a letter to ‘The Financial Times’ dated 28 July 2004 by Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma. “Prof Sachs parrots the revisionist claims by Burma’s military rulers”, Aung Din alleged, “that the 1990 elections…..was about writing a new constitution – it was most certainly not”.

In a letter to “The Financial Times” dated 13 August 2004 by way of reply, Jeffrey Sachs pointed out that “in the lead-up to the May 27 1990 election, the ruling state council had emphasized that a new constitution would be required. On May 19 1990, The Economist reported: ‘The main job of the elected assembly will be to write a constitution on which there will be a referendum. This will be followed by an election to form a new government. The whole process is expected to take two years, during which the state council will continue to rule.’ The Independent newspaper, the Associated Press and other international media issued similar reports before the election. Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi made the same point on July 1 1989 in an interview reprinted in her essays Freedom from Fear. Asked what would happen after elections, she answered: ‘Whoever is elected will first have to draw up a constitution that will have to be adopted before the transfer of power. They haven’t said how the constitution will be adopted. It could be through a referendum, but that could mean months and months, if not years’.”

Although accused of being “revisionist” by Aung Din in the same way that Bertil Lintner has accused me, Jeffrey Sachs had done his own independent research and had come to precisely the same conclusions as I had. Is Sachs now to be assailed by Lintner as “intellectually dishonest” because, like many other distinguished and intellectually competent writers, he reached conclusions with which Lintner does not agree?

I do not suppose for a moment that Lintner has done any research on the views and reactions of his Western contemporaries to events prior to the 27 May 1990 Elections. He does not have, as Sachs and I have, easy access to archives, journals and newspaper reports. There is in any case no particular reason why he should do such research. But he should at least have the courtesy to allow those of us who have done the relevant research to express our views and not to seek to bully us into silence and submission because what we write and say in all intellectual honesty might not be to his taste.

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David Moe

Thanks so much, Mr. Lintner for the informative and pragmatic essay! Indeed, you know better the depth and breadth of the Burmese politics than anyone else. Words beyond grateful to you for your wisdom, courage and interest in the Burmese politics! Please keep up the very good work!

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Audun

Thanks for an interesting article and equally interesting comment section. The arguments from those believing the 1990 election was about a constitutional tribunal is somehow amusing. What do we know? 1) In 1988-90 the regime repeatedly promised that the election should be free and fair and was about a shift of government. 2) In 1989-90 many, including NLD, ASSK and foreign journalists like Bertil Lintner, doubted this promise. Not very strange since ASSK was then put under house arrest. 3) A few months before the election (after the regime realized that NLD could win a landslide victory) the regime started to talk about an election for a constitutional tribunal. 4) When NLD won, the regime did not keep their promise of handing over the power. 5) Afterwards some academics, diplomats and journalists claim that the whole election was about the constitutional tribunal in the first place, and that it is a “misunderstanding” used by “activists” to claim that the 1990 election was about electing a new government. What is the logic behind it? Let´s break it down: Person A promises something. Person B doubts the promise, of good reasons. Person A doesn´t keep the promise. Then academics take Person B´s doubt as an evidence for that Person A never intended to keep the promise. What kind of logic is that?

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