Can the Opposition Remain Relevant?
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, December 15, 2017
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GUEST COLUMN

Can the Opposition Remain Relevant?


By MIN ZIN AUGUST, 2010 - VOL.18 NO.8


Monks march in Rangoon during the septemer 2007 "Saffron Revolution".(Photo: THIERRY FALISE)
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The opposition in Burma should be measured both in terms of the public support it draws and its ability to achieve both its intermediate and ultimate goals

Since Burma won independence from Britain in 1948, the country has been fraught with a spectrum of contentious politics ranging from armed insurgencies to nonviolent movements against the state. The current political environment, however, marks the first time in Burmese history that the  opposition is faced with the challenge of remaining relevant. And if they are going to remain relevant, the question is how?
There are two basic factors in determining the relevancy of an opposition group. The first is public support, or legitimacy. The second is the ability to achieve desired outcomes.

Legitimacy

In Burma’s contentious political environment, repression and the resulting grievances have inspired public action—and provided legitimacy to the opposition—whenever state interference with people’s everyday routines has been compounded by brutal and unjust events.

For example, the demonetization combined with police brutality against students in 1987, and the 500 percent fuel price hike combined with police brutality against Buddhist monks in 2007, each sparked political conflict and nonviolent movements that the public deemed legitimate. The endurance, commitment, courage and sacrifices of the activists strengthened the legitimacy of those movements in the public’s eyes, and the opposition was considered highly relevant despite the fact that activists could not operate in an open political system and faced a military government with a propensity for repression.

Min Zin is a Burmese journalist in exile.
Therefore, because in the past the Burmese regime created a political environment that compelled the public to support opposition movements, in examining whether opposition groups will remain relevant following the 2010 elections, it is important to consider whether the repressive nature of the state will continue.

The new Constitution and the 2010 election will not transform the incompatible goals of the military elite and the opposition, and therefore will not change their inherently conflicting relationship. In addition, the new, post-election government has little prospect of solving the issues facing the country, including human rights violations, corruption and economic mismanagement, all of which are associated with the military’s unchecked power, interests and behavior.

One change that will take place is the transformation of the one-dimensional military junta into a hybrid form of government—political and military. The new format, which the regime clearly intends to manipulate to maintain its grip on power, could ironically be viewed as a prospect for political realignment and therefore embolden the general public to rally behind the opposition groups.

But regardless of whether this takes place, the ongoing repressive nature of state-society relations will again legitimize the opposition groups and make them relevant by continuing to allow the opposition to rally the public against the military-backed hybrid regime.

However, as social scientist Doug McAdam says, “Movements may be largely born of environmental opportunities, but their fate is heavily shaped by their own actions.” In other words, actions lead to outcomes, and in addition to its ability to achieve its ultimate goals, the opposition’s actions and its ability to achieve intermediate goals will in large part determine whether it remains relevant.

Achieving Desired Outcomes

The prevailing general impression is that since 1988 the opposition groups have failed to accomplish their professed goals. Following its decision not to re-register the party, the National League for Democracy even officially apologized to the public for its failed policies in the struggle for democracy. However, sweeping statements about the opposition’s relevance based on its inability to achieve its ultimate desired outcome should not be made without evaluating factors such as resilience, leverage and endgame strategy.

Resilience

Resilience consists of more than psychological qualities such as endurance, commitment and courage, all of which the opposition groups demonstrate admirably.



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