REPRESSION AND DEMOCRACY DEFICIT IN BURMA
Roland G. Simbulan*
This is the time for the international community, the people and governments of the world especially those in ASEAN, to extend their solidarity for the people of Burma (Myanmar). This is a critical time to extend their globalized solidarity for the struggling people at the hour of their need. The military junta of Burma — calling themselves the “State Peace and Development Council” (SPDC) –who have ruled this country for more than four decades, are again tryng to violently crack down on the non-violent protests. In 1988, an estimated 3,000 people peacefully protesting the junta’s policies were butchered in the streets of Yangon (Rangoon).
The recent protests in the streets for more than two weeks now, have been led by Buddhist monks in many parts of Burma. They have been sparked by the 500% increase in fuel prices overnight, affecting the price of essential commodities and public transport. The skyrocketing fuel prices are said to be part of the military junta’s economic and financial reform program, coinciding with the high-level mission to Burma by the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and the World Bank. The Burmese military rulers led by General Than Shwe want to privatize the national fuel distribution system and to sell the retail outlets to a private company, probably Tay Za and his Htoo Trading Group. Fuel state subsidies would have to be removed to make the business profitable, destroy the black market, and deliver a monopoly.
These recent economic policies have caused great hardship for the Burmese people who are not even allowed to complain by the military rulers, sparking nationwide marches and protests led by the traditionally non-political Buddhist monks. And there is no institutionalized check and balance to the economic mismanagement of the junta. More than 100,000 protestors in a muffled nation of 42,642,000 people have joined the Buddhists in key cities like Yangon, Mandalay, Mawlamyaing, Bago, and Pathein.
Two weeks ago, Asia’s thriving and struggling social movements — people’s movements, NGOs, indigenous peoples movements and women’s movements from more than 20 countries, met in Manila for the World Forum for Democratization in Asia(WFDA) and hosted by the Davao-based Initiatives for International Dialogue. The purpose was to address the issue of “democracy deficit” in various Asian countries, and especially to extend solidarity for the people in the repressed “closed societies” like Burma. It was a remarkable expression of “globalization from below”, citizens of the world fortifying each other, learning and exercising true international solidarity. Experiences of social movements in the region were shared with each other, including positive and negative lessons.
Social movements come from various degrees of experience, history in their struggles for the democratization of their societies. Some societies as in Burma, do not allow any kind of space for political and civil liberties, no free press, and no independent civil power is tolerated. In the end, we know that ultimately, the subjective forces of the Burmese people –through their consciousness, awareness and organization — will overcome the objective factors (superior force, weapons and technology) of the state appaatus of the repressive Burmese military rulers.
Social movements and states that claim to be democratic must close ranks and extend their full solidarity with the people of Burma who are struggling to be free. Burmese state repression that has been organized and institutionalized with torture, imprisonment, censorship, disappearances and summary executions of dissenters , is not unfamiliar to us in the Philippines.
But democracy, as we have learned in the Philippines is not ultimately, about seizing or controlling state power away from repressive regimes. We have seen how our own “democracy” can become so fragile even with the trappings of elections and political parties.
Democracy is about an awakened citizenry at their critical mass, organized and unorganized, that can make their government accountable, transparent and responsive to their people’s needs and aspirations, where the fundamental rights of the people are respected, even for those who are a minority. It is about waking up the consciousness of the people, developing their full potentials as human beings, bringing people together in a true spirit of debate, dialogue, consensus and participation to provoke changes in public and state policy. This is the fundamental deficit in Burma and the people there truly need our solidarity to achieve their democratization. The Burmese military junta’s principal backers –China and India –who are its trading partners, and investors must be made to account by the ASEAN members and international community for the actions of this despotic regime that they supply directly and indirectly with the logistics of repression.
It would be more tragic if at the time of their need, there was a deficit in our solidarity for resistance and courage of the people of Burma who are again, bravely standing up to their despotic military oppressors.
* The author is Full Professor in Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines. He is a former Vice Chancellor and Faculty Regent of U.P.and is currently a Senior Fellow of the Center for Peoples’ Empowerment in Governance(CENPEG).
* Article by Roland G Simbulan – For a full professional background of Professor Roland G. Simbulan (Click Here)