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Burma’s fifth column

Tine Gyaw

Feb 4, 2009 (DVB), In Burma's current political arena, there are five distinct groups with different approaches to democratisation, the struggle for power, and participation in the 2010 elections.

The first is the military group. The objective of the military is clear , the survival of general Than Shwe and the military dictatorship in power by all available means. They have imposed a seven-step roadmap for the country and written a constitution to suit their own ends and have now stated that they will hold an election , in order to get what they want.

Another is the opposition group inside Burma led by the NLD. This group has declared that it doesn’t accept the State Peace and Development Council's 2008 constitution, but they haven’t said clearly and decisively whether they are going to contest the election or not.

The third is the group that opposes and works to bring down the military group’s seven-step road map in whatever way they can. This group is strongest outside the country.

The fourth group is made up of the strong armed ethnic ceasefire groups. Out of this group, well-equipped organisations such as the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Organisation neither accept nor reject the SPDC’s plans for the 2010 election. This group maintains a policy of neutrality and insists that it will only deal with the government that emerges from the future elections. In essence, this group doesn’t seem to accept the SPDC’s 2008 constitution and 2010 election.

The last group says it will contest the election in accordance with the 2008 constitution to be organised by the SPDC, and try to achieve democracy reform gradually. This group also opposes the sanctions imposed by western countries against Burma. Although this group was originally made up of opponents of sanctions and those who are rallying for the emergence of civil institutions, they have since been joined by members of the NLD and other opposition groups who have became disillusioned with their leaders. They are also said to have gained support from western countries.

There are three main points to consider with regard to this group.

First, their opposition to the economic sanctions imposed on Burma by western nations. Second, their struggle to set up civil institutions within the country. Third, their acceptance of the 2008 constitution and willingness to participate in the 2010 election.

Controversy has raged for years on the first point. Recently, East Timor’s president Ramos Horta said that he opposes the sanctions. But this group fails to point out that the military group has been seeking personal benefits from this issue, blocking some national businesses for their own benefit and mismanaging the economy to ensure the perpetuation of its power. It also fails to point out the role of the military government in the deterioration of the economy of the country.

This group even claims that the economy of Burma has suffered because of the economic sanctions, causing the lack of an emerging middle class and the obstruction of democratic change. But there has been no attempt to establish how the military regime would carry out political and economic change, and how political restrictions would be removed, if sanctions were lifted. Instead, the issue has been used to split the opposition.

Another slogan of this group is the need for the emergence of a vibrant civil society. If you take this slogan at face value, it seems to right. But in reality, it is clear that the military government has carried out severe oppression so that civil institutions would not emerge in Burma. The associations which were allowed to exist under the one-party Burma Socialist Party Programme system in schools are now outlawed with the exception of Robert Taylor and Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing's groups.

To be frank, Cyclone Nargis presented a positive opportunity to set up civil institutions. The military government made a concerted effort not to allow this to happen, and only allowed the formation of organisations by supporters of the regime and those who share its interests.

What is really needed in Burma is the official right to existence for independent civil organisations that carry out work for the benefit of the people, not just the creation of civil institutions that carry out the wishes of the military.

The final slogan of this group is its willingness to participate in the election and to try to take any opportunities it can for democracy. The idea is to get more democratic rights, step by step. But this seems to be the same strategy the military is taking to preserve the dictatorship, but in another form. There were some bitter lessons to be learned not long ago. The 1962 coup leader general Ne Win’s government ruled the country systematically according to the 1974 constitution, Hlutaw and party. General Ne Win became president Ne Win, then party chairman Ne Win with no change in the system of power and no improvement for the country and the people, who were instead led along the road to ruin.

Now, the people of this group could become elected MPs in the coming election as they expect. They could achieve some more rights. But you won’t see any road to improvement for the people and the country. It is necessary to see the truth in this group's words, which are becoming ever louder, and unveil it for what it is.

At this stage, it won’t be sufficient for the NLD and opposition groups just to criticise and attack this fifth column. If they are not on the right path, it is necessary to tell people immediately and concisely what this path should be. It is necessary to explain to the international community firmly. It is necessary to persuade and convince army officers and soldiers who do not like the military dictatorship. In the end, it is necessary to be able explain to those who support the military that their actions are not right, until they can understand and accept it.

Only then can there be true change in Burma.