On This Day

The Day Myanmar Fought for Democracy

By Wei Yan Aung 8 August 2019

YANGON— Thirty-one years ago today, almost every citizen in Myanmar took to the streets to topple dictator Ne Win’s oppressive socialist regime, which had ruled the country with an iron fist since 1962.

Despite the collapse of the regime, the movement—known as “the ’88 uprising”—led to a bloody coup by the military.

The final straw had come when the Ne Win regime demonetized the 25-, 35-, and 75-kyat notes without warning or compensation in 1987, then carried out a brutal clampdown on pro-democracy student movements in March and June of 1988. Hundreds of thousands of people from all strata of life took to the streets, pressing their demand for democracy.

President U Sein Lwin—a Gen. Ne Win henchman who had played a continuous part in suppressing peaceful demonstrations since the military regime staged a coup in 1962—declared a curfew and ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. Government newspapers said over 300 died in the crackdown but independent sources estimated that the actual figure was ten times that.

The military, at the instruction of Gen. Ne Win, again seized power through a coup before holding general elections in 1990, but the military did not transfer power to the election winner, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Myanmar again fell under military rule for the next 20 years, during which it designed a constitution in its own favor.

General elections were held again in 2010 but the military retained its full grip through its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party. The NLD, which was born out of the ‘88 pro-democracy uprising, won general elections in 2015 and became the ruling party. However, the NLD still finds it difficult to remove the military from politics.