Road Map to Nowhere
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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VIEWPOINT

Road Map to Nowhere


By Aung Zaw AUG, 2003 - VOLUME 11 NO.7


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Returning to past tactics, the junta has announced a plan for Burma’s future. The much-anticipated inaugural address from Burma’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Gen Khin Nyunt, was a severe but hardly unexpected letdown for Burmese everywhere. Shortly after his speech at the Parliament building, political commentators, journalists and opposition party members within Burma daringly expressed their frustration to international shortwave radio stations. Dissidents and ethnic leaders abroad also voiced their disappointment with the speech’s ambiguity. Khin Nyunt claimed that his government has a seven-point plan and would resume long-suspended work on the drafting of a new constitution, paving the way for an elected government in Rangoon. Sound familiar? It should. Mesmerized by his copious abstractions, Khin Nyunt issued no timeframe for the drafting process. He mentioned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi only once, without saying if she would be allowed to participate in any future government. He scolded her for scuttling the last National Convention, from which she withdrew her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in 1995 on the grounds that the convention was merely a tool of the ruling junta. "Due to the NLD’s attempt to derail the National Convention under foreign pressure," Khin Nyunt said, "the political developments and political process have sputtered to a stop." To get things moving again, the PM said that once the draft constitution was completed it would be subject to a referendum. If approved, it would form the basis for a "free and fair" parliamentary election leading to the formation of a new government. Such a progression, he said, would ultimately transform Burma into "a modern, developed democratic country." Previously it was believed that Burma was looking for a role model in the region. In the early 1990s, junta leaders had shown an interest in Dwifungsi, the political system of Indonesia under Suharto, in which the military has a dual function in military and political affairs. And at the National Convention the junta had pondered its role in the national politics of the future. But most observers regard Khin Nyunt’s seven-point plan—"the road map of Myanmar [Burma]", as he affectionately called it—as a road map to nowhere. Gen Khin Nyunt boasted of the government’s achievements over the last 15 years, especially with regard to development and modernization. He counted new bridges and roads. But he failed to acknowledge the actual result of military rule: Burma remains one of the poorest countries in the region, and indeed the world. The budgets for health and education are appallingly small. Poverty, ethnic strife, war and repression drive many Burmese to escape to neighboring countries. And there is a thriving traffic in humans and drugs along Burma’s borders with Thailand, China and India. Though it is now a member of Asean, Burma is still regarded as its black sheep. It is the only country in Southeast Asia that has faced both US sanctions and an EU visa ban. And these are just a few of the junta’s "achievements." Khin Nyunt’s speech was simply a repetition of what other top leaders, himself included, have uttered over the last 15 years. With banal predictability, he largely ignored the issues of ethnic separatism and the 1990 election. He didn’t bother to mention the buzzword "national reconciliation." Nor did he point out that the regime has been drafting Burma’s "new" constitution since 1992. Dissidents deemed the speech a "challenge" to the democratic opposition and a clear sign that the junta has no intention of giving up power, not even gradually. Though Khin Nyunt’s speech sidelined Suu Kyi, he and his government clearly cannot ignore "the Lady", who was alleged to have begun a hunger strike the very next day. Suddenly the junta leaders were on the defensive. Suu Kyi is important. She is wanted by millions of Burmese, while the generals are wanted only for their crimes. So though the junta will continue to administer the National Convention according to its own agenda, Suu Kyi’s detention will remain a stumbling block. After all, the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections—a fact that Khin Nyunt, his regime and the world simply cannot forget. Some regional powers believe that the road map is feasible. Though most Burmese dismissed the general’s speech as hot air, neighboring Thailand and China immediately approved of it. Yet any judgment of the road map must take into account the track record of the people behind it. It is purely an invention of the generals and has no support from the Burmese. It ignores the democratic opposition, including Suu Kyi.


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