Burma at a Crossroads (Part II): An Analysis of Societal Resistance
By MIN ZIN Friday, August 12, 2011


It is now more cliché than politically incorrect to quote Harold Lasswell’s definition of politics as “who gets what, when and how?” Still, this serves as a good reminder for those whose political drive is stuck in moral traffic, because it underlines distribution of power as the determining factor in political outcomes. However, the ability to achieve desired outcomes is only one part of the political relevancy of societal resistance. As this author noted before, another factor—legitimacy—plays a crucial role in determining the relevancy of societal resistance in Burma.

A positive outcome will not be achieved on its own no matter how the new regime in Naypyidaw  manages to initiate a lengthy and non-linear state-building process. The geographical and functional reach of the Burmese state has been highly constrained by a multitude of societal forces, including democratic opposition groups as well as ethnic insurgencies that have plagued the country for several decades. Despite the fact that Burma is now undergoing a regime-led political transition, societal pressures will play a crucial role in intermediating the outcome. This article will attempt to analyze the role of societal forces in influencing the political transition.

Although the mainstream opposition groups are sidelined in the new political game of the post-2010 regime, the ongoing repressive nature of state-society relations still legitimizes the opposition forces and makes them relevant. However, whether or not the opposition groups are capable of making use of this political capital for the good of the country or even at least for their own survival remains a big question. Let’s start with unpacking the political opportunity structures that are available to the opposition.

There are two key domains emerging out of the post-2010 regime. The first is the parameter set by the 2008 Constitution and its elected government, and the second domain represents what I would call “the principled opposition” or “mainstreamers,” who refuse to play within the political framework set by the regime and yet remain as formidable stakeholders.

In addition to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and direct military representatives in governing bodies, the political parties, including ethnic parties that contested the 2010 election, civil society actors, media, and technocrats, are prime actors in this regime-controlled political parameter. Let’s call them “the insiders,” since they play within the existing game.

Among the mainstreamers, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, clandestine or underground activists, and an assortment of ethnic resistance groups are still major forces to be reckoned with. Observers should analyze what kind of political environment prevails in each of these two domains that provide political opportunity for respective players to advance their goals.

Thanks to the changing structures of state in the post-2010 regime, a relative openness emerges in the first domain, where we see a considerable number of actors from civil society and technocrats, media groups, the legislature and the judiciary attempt to push the limits. The majority of players in this regime-controlled domain appear to recognize that they can’t affect “the exercise of power,” but can play a role in expanding ways of “access to power”. They pursue a process and a strategy that allows them to conduct both embeddedness—being co-opted into the existing political framework—and contestation. Thus far, the domestic media and technocrats are becoming more outspoken in their contestation of the inefficient governance of the post-2010 regime, while elected opposition parties in the legislature rely more on the embeddedness process that focuses on  institution-building rather than institutional autonomy, at least in the early years of a new regime. The judiciary remains the most conservative arena in the regime-controlled domain. However, this could be a theater where the opposition could repeatedly test and expose the regime’s claims to “rule of law”.

Meanwhile, actors in all of these arenas—civil society, media, the legislature, and so on—can’t take it for granted that the relative openness in the regime-controlled domain is linear and irreversible. The success depends on their own tactfulness, the result of power rivalries within the new regime, and also the willingness of the principled opposition groups to ally with them or at least refrain from rocking the boat.

The emergence of this new state structures poses a serious challenge to the “mainstreamers” or principled opposition groups, though they still hold sway on public support and Western backing.

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Fred Wrote:
I differ with Moe Aung. Practical people can deal with practical people.

Stiglitz’s policies are appropriate for more developed economies. Maybe the UN can refer more appropriate people.

Thein Sein says he wants to turn the nation around. I’ll give him a chance.

In the past few years, the government has used economic tricks, such as special economic zones, like what jump started the Chinese economy. To convert from socialism, they put chunks of their economy on sale to foreigners, to raise money and get them to invest. Burma can do this more sanely.

For example, odds are good that Burma has world class deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, and/or zinc. International mining companies would drool at the chance to find out. But the bad will created by striking a deal with corrupt generals prevents them from acting. If you bring in an economist who knows how to structure mining deals that instead puts money into the Burmese treasury, I think Thein Sein would hire him.

Moe Aung Wrote:
As for the economy, it's the political will, stupid!

Any number of able and eminent economists such as Joseph Stiglitz before and now our own U Myint may well be talking to a brick wall.

Moe Aung Wrote:
The current strategy of wooing ASSK is confirmation if ever needed of whom the regime(vis-a-vis international players)continues to see as the real opposition, parliamentary opposition safely in the bag as it were.

It is not so much the unity and concerted efforts of 'insiders' and the above ground 'principled opposition' as that of the above and underground 'principled opposition' that must be realized in order to move forward.

The generals don't expect to lose to any other group. Every move they make will be in aid of their own longevity in office, always ahead of the game with all the cards at their disposal.

The rest can either muddle along as best they could, tentatively and slowly trying to push the boundaries of political space which may take forever,or they could take the initiative and plan proactively to achieve their goal of winning the fight. There's hardly any time to lose.

Fred Wrote:
To quote the essay: “Recently, the new government appeared to offer a three-pronged approach to the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which are (1) recognition of the existing regime, (2) talks between government representative Aung Kyi and Suu Kyi, and (3) the latter’s involvement in government poverty alleviation efforts.”

1) This is only a theoretical matter, which can be ignored for years, as long as all parties agree. Hopefully it will be resolved in the future at a time when it is easier to do so. For now, both parties will have to decide whether they wants meaningful results, or just a theoretical victory.

2) When people talk, there is the chance of something good happening.

3) The government is trying to give The Lady something mutually acceptable to do. She is unlikely to produce anything of consequence, no matter how hard she tries. The real problem is the structure of the economy, worth a few long essays in itself. The economic skills necessary to solve this are not rare.

kerry Wrote:
Peace is such a simple human need. Education, health care and family life are so possible for everyone in Burma. Peace is just letting the people decide.

Why why why are those who cannot understand that every person is of value, so resolute, greedy, archaic and destructive?

Human consciousness has reached new 'uniform' and 'businesslike' lows in parts of the false face (internal and imported) of synthetically busy 'Myanmar'. The individuals responsible seem so far removed from 21st century humanity. yet everyone can see them so clearly!

Change cannot be far away. This absurd situation is inhuman and untenable.Even conscienceless China must be deeply embarrassed and feeling totally exposed, for its inhumanity and avarice in yet another vulnerable nation.

Ko Htike Wrote:
Well written. But I feel like these articles were intended for foreign audience or may be just to show the author's academic skill.

tocharian Wrote:
Its the Chinese stupid!
(Is this editorial going to be a part of Min Zin's Ph.D. thesis?)

khar Wrote:
change, meaningful change in burma can't be brought about by meaningless non-arm, ghandinian movement. the only way for ethnic minority to achieve equality and progress in burma is by armed not just resistence, but fighting, not just when necessary but always initiating the fight, primarily using quarrilla (spelling) warfare tectics and strategy and army building through engaging in profit making businesses and taxation. once ethnic armies are strong enough, there's two results; independence or self-automony. that's the only way for us in Burma, and other buddhist countries to become free for us the minorities.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Real pseudo-intellectual claptrap!Citing alien's sayings, forgetting the realities of real Burma, not understanding the nature of power struggle.Remember the dominant power prevails.OK?

When you keep sucking up to the dead coloniser, dictate of Clement of Attlee - Panglong, when you are so treasonous to suck up to traitor SuuKyi, all the rest is irrelevant.
Now the Desperate Housewife of Oxford is suing her brother and a newspaper. How very funny!

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bullet How the Game Was Lost

bullet Karens at the Crossroads

bullet Building Country Ownership in Burma

bullet Donors Rush Where Angels Feared to Tread

bullet Myanmar: On Claiming Success

bullet Ceasefires Won't Bring Peace

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