Guest Column
covering burma and southeast asia
Friday, November 22, 2019


Guest Column

By The Irrawaddy AUGUST, 1998 - VOLUME 6 NO.4


Team work

Outmoded leadership styles and centralization are not favoured by Burma's democrats. As for the so-called leaders who cling to the old model, Thar Nyunt Oo writes, their days are numbered.

Burma’s people have grown accustomed to living in a closed society for many years. After the era of feudalism, Burma fell under colonial rule. Then, Burma was given spurious independence from Japan. Later, there was a period of parliamentary governance characterized by civil unrest and an absence of democratic rights and values. The military, calling themselves “socialists,” seized power in 1962 and, to this day, has tried to draft a state constitution which solidifies the junta’s hold on the state apparatus. We have grown and matured in an atmosphere of oppression, human rights violations and a lack of democratic opportunities.

According to psychology, a child who has lived under the pressures of restrictive parents grows used to bullying others. As a consequence of our maturation, how we work with others is influenced by our pasts. In particular, many with such backgrounds hold that, unless strong authority and extreme centralization are in place, organizations are bound to collapse.

Actually, such authority structures are detested by civilized persons, including the people of Burma. In Burma, a faction of the military has handled and exploited their own troops with the slogan “With one consent, one voice, one command.” This group oppressed the people with their idea-less forces. They  neglected the ideal of “with one consent,” using “command” to create “one voice”—their own voice. We claimed during 1988 that, if the Tatmadaw had concentrated upon command, whether it be right or wrong, instead of focusing on “truth,” the Tatmadaw would have been merely a stooge. After 1988, we struggled through civil disobedience against the despotic rules and commands of Slorc, spearheaded by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She replaced “command” with the twin disciplines of consideration and reason.

“Command” is part of an oppressive machine that seeks as its goal or aim to gain dominance and control of a person or a group. It might be misuse of power. It may be carried out through an organization which was founded by a person or a group. In the “command” model, the leader or headquarters of the organization are paramount. Without the central figure of the leader or the stability of a headquarters, collapse is inevitable. The fate of the organization is chained to that of its leaders. The duties of the ordinary rank-and-file members consist simply in obeying orders from the leadership and remaining humble before them. The revealed personal qualifications and abilities of the ordinary member are not significant. Members are only cast from moulds framed by rules and orders from above.

In a case where everybody is in dismay concerning an order or command, some organizations have resorted to appointing one individual as “dictator.” Members accede to the authority of the organization. Ko Hla Shwe, chairman of the All Burma Student’s Union during the anti-imperialist movement, was a good example of a dictator appointed by others. All students followed his orders and named him “dictator Hla Shwe.” But the All Burma Student’s Union was not, in the end, a dictatorial organization. Even during the crucial time of chairman Min Ko Naing, he did not order or command the members. He simply led and guided the strategies decided by all members, with one consent. In some cases the organization breaks down because there is no leadership to provide order. For example, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions could not survive once all members of its central committee were arrested in 1960. The Union struggled, just like a underground group,  in 1962.

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