Commentary

Myanmar’s Election a Chance to End a Cycle of Man-Made Disasters

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 2 October 2020

Fortunately, Myanmar is not a country that suffers many natural disasters like typhoons, earthquakes, eruptions, etc. However, it is the country’s great misfortune to suffer severe man-made disasters. The damage has been catastrophic!

Chains of human-made disasters have destroyed almost everything in Myanmar and its society—its economy, its education system, its infrastructure, its political system and stability, even its integrity—which natural disasters can’t destroy—and caused countless damage physically and mentally. Actually, these man-made disasters are “political disasters”, as the leaders of the country, their wrongheaded policies and their corrupt and oppressive system have damaged all sectors of the country.

After restoring its independence in 1948, Myanmar was supposed to thrive and develop without any more trouble from war and foreign invasion (which are also man-made disasters). But the civil war started under the first national government, which fought armed rebel groups like the Burma Communist Party and the Karen National Union. But the country’s political system was rather stable, as it was an elected civilian government that applied a parliamentary system. Under that system, despite the armed conflict, people did enjoy the right to vote and to express their beliefs, as well as prosperity and development at a level beyond that of Myanmar’s neighboring countries.

But after just about 10 years, in 1962, General Ne Win staged a coup and introduced iron-fisted military rule to the country. It was just the start of the chain of man-made disasters in Myanmar destroying all bright prospects for the country after its auspicious independence.

Ne Win’s military council later implemented a so-called socialist system, under his “Burma Socialist Programme Party”, with the country closed to the outside world.

Politically, his regime crushed all opposition movements, threw all dissenters behind bars, silenced all independent newspapers and quenched all civil society groups. Everyone had to live in fear, as Big Brother was listening everywhere. The whole society was damaged under this system. It looked like the society had been struck by a powerful storm. Yes, it was a man-made political storm that extinguished the political freedom of the whole society and individual rights (no more right to vote, either).

Economically, the socialist regime’s policies proved totally misguided after 25 years of its rule. It was 1987 when the country was included in the list of the world’s least developed countries. It was a shame for the whole population, who prior to the coup that brought Ne Win to power had been proud of their nation’s reputation as the “Asian Rice Bowl”. The system introduced by Ne Win and his handpicked people, most of whom were ex-generals, made the country one of the world’s poorest. The whole population suffered as a result of this economic policy. It was also a man-made economic disaster that impoverished the whole population.

The first wave lasted for 26 years from 1962 to 1988 under Gen. Ne Win’s authoritarian rule. It ended when a people’s uprising toppled his oppressive regime. But unfortunately, these man-made disasters introduced by Ne Win and his generals were just a first wave in a series of disasters to come for Myanmar.

More man-made disasters arrived when Ne Win’s succeeding generals assumed power on Sept. 18, 1988. They included high-ranking military officials Saw Maung, Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt as leading members of the new junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council.

Politically and economically, similar patterns were repeated. But this time, the disasters were even worse.

The new regime wiped out all dissident groups; tens of thousands of dissidents fled the country and the rest were sentenced to harsh terms of imprisonment. The new junta’s crackdown was like a tsunami wiping out the whole community of dissidents, killing about 3,000 peaceful demonstrators across the country and arresting thousands more activists and politicians. It was later known as the ’88 Uprising.

This was the beginning of the second wave of Myanmar’s man-made disasters.

The country faced more disasters in the following decades; the ruling generals didn’t relinquish their power though it was entirely illegitimate. Crackdowns and oppression of political dissidents were so rife that everyone felt as if they were living in a society of fear. Totalitarianism was in high gear, earning the country inclusion among the “Outposts of Tyranny”—along with Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran and others—named by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Economically, the country grew so poor that poverty became a byword for observers when describing Myanmar. Job prospects were bleak as graduates drove taxis and soldiers ran the government. While the people eked out a living, the generals and their cronies profited from developments that lined their pockets with cash. Corruption was rampant and is one of the generals’ main legacies—one whose effects Myanmar is still suffering from today.

Plus, the military regime forced and fooled its own citizens, as well as the world, into accepting its continued rule of the country until 2010. Even after that, they managed to rule the country for the next five years as a result of the rigged and exclusive elections held that year.

Everyone knows this tragic story of Myanmar, which has lasted for more than five decades. But sometimes people cannot clearly see the whole spectrum of man-made disasters, as those illegitimate leaders have clung to power, committing serious crimes against humanity and stealing the people’s property.

During the past decades under their rule, the people of Myanmar have fought back against those men who brought in these terrible disasters. People have applied many means, like peaceful demonstrations, taking to the streets and even choosing armed struggle to fight against the regime’s military.

Due to those struggles, Myanmar has reached a political stage in which citizens can cast their votes to choose the men and women they think will end the steady stream of disasters that have done so much damage to their lives in the past.

The new young voters—who number about 5 million—are luckier than their elders, who had to choose to “do or die” when they wanted to get rid of the “men” who were responsible for such man-made disasters. The entire population is lucky, now, that they do not have to risk their lives as in the past.

The upcoming election to be held on Nov. 8 is their chance to exercise their birthright, with a ballot paper, to choose persons unlike those “men” mentioned above who brought nothing but political disaster.

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