Time for Soul Searching
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Time for Soul Searching

By The Irrawaddy AUGUST, 2000 - VOLUME 8 NO.8

After 12 years of fighting in vain to bring down Burma’s military junta, now known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the exiled Burmese democracy movement finds itself in disarray. There are growing signs of a lack of motivation and frustration among Burmese activists and dissidents in exile, particularly in Thailand. Political opportunism and favoritism within the movement are a further cause of concern. A lack of leadership and infighting among dissidents in exile are also serious obstacles for Burmese seeking to achieve the ultimate goal of restoring peace and democracy to Burma. Analysts and some dissidents now say that it is time to eradicate the "virus" that has long sapped the strength of the democracy movement. A revolution within the revolution may indeed be imminent. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the formation of the government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB). Ten years ago, a group of elected parliamentarians held clandestine meetings in Mandalay, the former capital of Burma, where they decided to form a parallel government in exile. The reason: the generals refused to acknowledge the outcome of the 1990 general elections. At Manerplaw, the former stronghold of Karen rebels, the NCGUB was formed. Dr Sein Win, who happened to be Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s cousin, has led this government in exile ever since. However, the NCGUB, which now has its headquarters in Washington, DC, enjoys little support either at home or abroad. Dr Sein Win, a former professor, is regarded as "sincere" but lacking in charisma, political shrewdness and the ability to lead the exiled movement. The Prime Minister is little known among ordinary Burmese. Ten years after its inception in the jungles of the Thai-Burma border, very few people know much about the past and present activities of the NCGUB, which claims to be working for the people of Burma. Moreover, activists in exile now complain about the lack of transparency and accountability within the NCGUB. Since its formation, the NCGUB has received a fairly large amount of funding from various international agencies and western governments. But so far, it has not made any attempt to disclose how these funds are being used or what programs and projects it has implemented. Questions have been raised: What are the NCGUB’s projects? What are its achievements over the past ten years? And how effective has its international campaign to raise awareness about Burma been? Reform and a thorough shake-up of the NCGUB and its related agencies in Thailand, India, and most especially Europe and North America are urgently needed. It is also time to re-evaluate its projects and the numerous seminars that have been organized by exiled groups. Have any of these projects and seminars achieved their stated objectives? If not, what are the reasons for this? We all know that NCGUB ministers have received annual funding from various foundations for their projects. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as these funds are being used as intended and the projects being implemented are cost effective. There is absolutely no doubt that the Burmese people need as much aid and international assistance as the world has to offer. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled and continue to flee across Burma’s borders with Thailand, Bangladesh, India and China in a desperate bid to find some measure of security, while thousands of democracy activists in exile struggle to further their education so that they can contribute to their country’s future. Their survival is almost entirely decided by the availability of international aid. But too often, despite the abundance of money that has been given in support of the Burmese democracy cause, potential donors overlook young, talented and committed activists for the simple reason that they lack connections within the pro-democracy "establishment." Ethnic groups, including Shan, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Kachin, are particularly neglected for this reason, and are worthy of far more support than they have been receiving. It is time for the NCGUB and its associates to embrace or at least stop opposing ideas proposed by people outside of their narrow clique, and for donors to start looking beyond the NCGUB in their search for worthy causes to support. This may mean less money for the NCGUB and more work for donors, but in the long run it will certainly be worth it for all those whose first and foremost concern is to promote democracy in Burma. Since 1988, the issues surrounding the Burmese pro-democracy movement have grown considerably murkier, as it can no longer be presumed that everyone who professes democracy and despises the thugs who rule in Rangoon is genuinely motivated by a desire for change in Burma.

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