Burma’s Dictator, Than Shwe, has today officially disbanded the State Peace and Development Council, the body through which Burma’s dictators have ruled the country since 1997. However, Burma Campaign UK today warned that dictatorship remains alive and well in Burma, guaranteed by a new Constitution and a new political infrastructure.
The transfer of power from the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to a new all-powerful body, the National Defence and Security Council, is just the latest in a series of rebrandings since the establishment of the first dictatorship in Burma in 1962.
There are many parallels between the current rebranding, and that undertaken by General Ne Win between 1972 and 1974. Senior General Than Shwe has clearly taken these steps as a blueprint for his so-called roadmap to democracy.
Burma’s first dictatorship began in 1962, led by General Ne Win, under the name of the Revolutionary Council. At the same time he promoted the Burma Socialist Programme Party as a so-called grassroots political face for the dictatorship. Than Shwe has followed a similar path with the Union Solidarity Development Association, of which he was President, and which transformed into the Union Solidarity and Development Party ahead of the elections.
Like Ne Win, Than Shwe also drafted a new constitution designed to legalise his rule and give it a civilian face. Than Shwe also followed Ne Win’s blueprint in having a rigged referendum to approve that Constitution. Ne Win also held a sham election and created a rubber stamp Parliament, just as Than Shwe has now done. In another similarity Ne Win also had a handful of civilians in government positions in his dictatorship.
Following the introduction of the new Constitution in 1974, and a supposed transition from military to civilian dictatorship, Ne Win ruled for a further 14 years. 37 years later, there is still dictatorship in Burma.
This history helps to explain why most people in Burma are largely disinterested in the current political structures being created in Burma, as was shown by the low turnout in the election. They do not see any significant change. They have seen it all before. Excitement about these changes is largely confined to diplomatic circles, and those who are politically active in Rangoon. Understanding this history is also important in understanding the decision by the National League for Democracy not to take part in this sham process.
Whether or not the dictatorship brands itself the Revolutionary Council, the Central Committee of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the State Peace and Development Council, or, as now, the National Defence and Security Council, it is still a dictatorship. Whether or not it is led by Ne Win, Maung Maung, Than Shwe, or Thein Sein, it is still a dictatorship. Whether or not it contains a handful of civilians, or ex-military people, it is still a dictatorship.
The real facts on the ground are that there are no new freedoms, that human rights abuses continue, and that those ruling Burma clearly have no intention of introducing any genuine reforms to improve human rights or move towards democracy.
“What we are seeing in Burma today is a rebranding, not reform,” said Mark Farmaner, Director at Burma Campaign UK. “It’s groundhog day for the people of Burma, dictatorship is alive and well, and large parts of the international community seem to have been fooled by its shiny new branding.”
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