Burma was colonized
by Britain from the early nineteenth century and was accorded
a limited form of self-government in the late 1930s, when it was
separated from the administration of India against a background
of nationalist challenge. It was occupied by the Japanese during
the Worl War II with the support of Burmese nationalists, who
in 1943 were accorded a nominal independence.
full independence in January 4, 1948 after the British Labour
Party administration revised its gradualist timetable in light
of the demonstrable support enjoyed by the Anti-Fascist People's
Freedom League (AFPFL), the militant nationalist movement led
by Aung San.
independence as a parliamentary democracy in inauspicious circumstances.
Nationalist leader Aung San came to an agreement in January 1947
with the British government for the transfer of sovereignty a
year later. However, on July 19, 1947, he was assassinated, along
with six members of his cabinet, in a plot mounted by a political
rival. Independence went ahead on January 4, 1948 with U Nu as
Burma was subject to violent internal upheaval as the government
in Rangoon was confronted with two Communist and a number of ethnic-minority
insurgencies, challenging both the identity and the constitutional
arrangements of the new state. Because of his roots in the nationalist
movement, against both the British and Japanese, General Ne Win
displayed a sense of political entitlement which came to affect
the future of the country. Violent challenge to the state and
its integrity was succeeded by ferocious factional fighting within
the ruling political party.
It was to repair
this situation that in July 1958, the prime minister, U Nu, invited
General Ne Win to form a caretaker government and to prepare the
country for fresh elections. Power was returned to civilian government
in March 1960. With the electoral success of his faction of the
Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, U Nu resumed office as Prime
Minister. On March 2, 1962, however, Ne Win mounted a coup in
response to concessions by the government to the insurgent ethnic
minorities and set up a Revolutionary Council to run the country.
rule, the country became committed to an ersatz ideology called
the Burmese Way to Socialism, which was a potted version of Marxist
and Buddhist formulae. In July 1962, the Revolutionary Council
established the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) with the
mission to realize the Burmese Way to Socialism. All other parties
were abolished, while the BSPP served as the political arm of
the army. In 1974, a new constitution was promulgated, the BSPP
was opened up to a mass membership and the name of the state was
changed to the Socialist Republic Union of Burma, with Ne Win
in the office of president. He stepped down in November 1981 but
remained in control as chairman of the BSPP.
in political turmoil when the government adopted desperate measures
to cope with a deteriorating economy. Demonetization of larger
currency notes in circulation in September 1987 provoked student
unrest which exploded in demonstrations and violence in March
1988. This challenge was matched by ruthless military repression,
which came to a head in August and September.
In the interim,
Ne Win resigned as chairman of the BSPP in July but failed to
stem the popular uprising, under the leadership of Aung San Suu
Kyi, the daughter of national hero Aung San, who had returned
to Burma coincidentally to nurse her ailing mother.
18, 1988 the army chief of staff, General Saw Maung, assumed power
on behalf of the military in an incumbency coup marking the culmination
of an awesome bloodletting. They named themselves the State Law
and Restoration Council (SLORC). On November 15, 1997 they changed
to new name, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
were allowed to register during 1989. Although more than two hundred
emerged, only a handful of any significance were formed, above
all, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu
Kyi. She was placed under house arrest in July 1989 for six years.
Nonetheless, the National League for Democracy won an overwhelming
electoral victory at the polls in May 1990 over the National Unity
Party, which was the political reincarnation of the BSPP. But
SPDC refused to hand over of state power. In September 2000 Aung
San Suu Kyi was arrested again, and then briefly released in 2002.
On May 30,
2003, the authorities attacked a convoy carrying Aung San Suu
Kyi and many members of the NLD. Nearly 100 people were killed
in the violence that became known as the Depayin Massacre, after
the township where they were attacked. Suu Kyi was placed under
house arrest for a third time, and many of her supporters were
imprisoned where they then faced torture.
In 2004, the
regime began again it so-called National Convention, though has
failed to include the NLD or representatives of the ethnic nationalities
in the drafting of a new constitution. At this time, the military
regime also purged Khin Nyunt, head of the Military Intelligence,
and set itself on a course of further isolationism.
In 2005, the
National Convention continues, but with no sign of when an ernest
transition to democracy will begin. In November, Suu Kyi's house
arrest was extended for another year, and the SPDC clearly began
a crackdown intended to eliminate the NLD through harrassment,
imprisonment, torture, and death.
There are currently
over 21,00 political prisoners incarcerated in Burma.