Preface N Introduction


This paper presents a brief background about the Burma military regime, its worldview, its struggle for political legitimacy, comparative political transitions around the world, the ongoing political standoff, and the potential political transition in the future of Burma. Although the tittle of this paper suggests the overall political development and democratization of the whole society of Burma, the central theme of this paper is to scrutinize the military background and balance the political powers between the military regime and the opposition in order to synthesize the potential for political transition as compared to other political transition and regime changes around the world.

Almost all of the research works were done through literature reviews and ongoing news analyses. The military background, the political history of Burma, the social cultural factors, the international and regional geopolitical context, the role of civil society, the ongoing confrontation between the military regime and the opposition, and other examples from political transitions around the world were all factors that help to predict what could be the prospective change in the future of Burma. The political nature of the people of Burma since the independence movement and the role of the military in Burma politics favor the military type of leadership in the society. Although the general public supports for democracy and political change due to economic scarcity and continuing civil wars, the social and cultural tenets and social hierarchism in the society still remain as the social and moral claims for the regime to legitimize its political role. The impact of the legacies of colonial rule and the continuing threat by the Burma Communist Party and the ethnic insurgencies legitimated the political role of the Burma military in the past.

The role of Burma regime in Southeast and East Asia regional politics has been dramatically changed during the last decade. The Asian neighbors' constructive engagement and support for the regime hindered the effectiveness of the western pressure over the regime government. The military government's attempt to crack down on all oppositions has been at the highest level, in order to maintain the status quo. With the help of the examples from the political transitions around the world, this paper comparatively presents the balance of confronting powers and their potential consequences.

Political liberation and political democratization are the well-known contemporary political movement's aims to achieve the highest human satisfaction and happiness for every individual in the society. "Political liberalization involves the expansion of public space through the recognition and protection of civil and political liberties, particularly those bearing upon the ability of citizens to engage in free political discourse and to freely organize in pursuit of common interests." Along with political liberation, political democratization becomes essential in order to achieve the end goal of human society. "Political democratization entails an expansion of political participation in such a way as to provide citizens with a degree of real and meaningful collective control over (public policy). Liberal democracy, characterized by the regular, open, honest electoral competition of political parties and protection of rights to organize politically, has become the dominant ideological basis for legitimizing political power." As the result of political liberation and democratization "individual psychology, personal relationships, families, religions, business cooporations, social clubs, political parties, literary and artistic meetings-all must in some sense be democratized if human beings are to fully reap the fruits of the democratic idea." However, confessional democracy- a system that assumes religious and nationalist fanatic affiliation is the primary factor in how the society is organized politically and constitutionally ensures the power of various groups-led to a devastating civil war. Although religious fanaticism is not the key obstacle to the progress of democratization in Burma, besides the military leaders' fool of political power, national fanaticism has been the core fundamental ideology that has shaped the military leaders' mindset that goes against the political development toward democracy.

Samuel Huntington's findings on the issue of world regime changes establish the general survey of the processes of political transitions. According to him (see chapter II of this paper) there are three types of transitions: transformation, transplacement, and replacement. After reviewing the available factors from both sides, the present Burma political condition supports the Huntington's theories of transplacement and transformation for the future possible political change. However, as the military regime, as long as possible, would prolong the process of any potential change, it is uncertain if negotiation would bring a complete transfer of power from military regime to the civilian government. At the last moment, the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on May 6 2002 from her 19 months-old house arrest and the recent release of other 200 political prisoners give a positive signal for a potential peaceful negotiation and a new era of confrontation between the military and the opposition.

I. Introduction

Since its independence in 1948, Burma has been experiencing back-and-forth political development and the recent decades' democratic movement has been the most serious public struggle for internal political change beyond the independence movement during the 1940s. After the British left in 1948, the society of Burma was left opened to the introduction of any new political ideology, although democracy was the people's choice as a legacy of the British rule. Communism, socialism, democracy and military dictatorship were the main political trends that occupied the society to at least some extent. For four decades the present military regime has been the most successful to maintain central political power since independence without the consent of the general public. However, it is unknown how long the military regime will be able to stand against the challenge of the recent democratic movement. Along with the recent decades' democratic revolution around the world, in this paper the social, cultural and political evolution of Burma, the regime's stability, the challenge of the democratic movement, and the international pressure will be evaluated to make analysis of the progress of democratization in Burma.

However, instead of analyzing the evolution of the basic social tendencies of the society toward democracy, this paper focuses on the potential for regime change from a military regime to civilian government. The factors that contribute or hinder the progress of democratization in Burma will be discussed. In order to balance the positive and negative factors that contribute or hinder the political development, the incompatible theories and practices will also be scrutinized. The civilian government is generally characterized as the government body in which the governing officers are elected with the participation of the general public in the process of election. This is unlikely to have happened in Burma as long as the military regime is confident about its control over the opposition, because, as we have seen in the 1990 national election, the military leaders are not willing to hand political power over the elected civilian leaders without political reservation for them. However, although there is no balanced military power that challenges the military regime, the combination of several factors that make up opposition is strong enough to destabilize the regime government at least some extent. Therefore, the regime government's political future remains uncertain unless it's political strategy is modified to be able to stand with certain limit of political legitimacy. This paper focuses on what factors contribute to the strength of the military regime' resistance to political transition and, on the other hand, what factors made up the strength of the opposition. The central point for the evaluation of the overall political development toward democracy is focused on the competitive general election with the participation of all eligible civilians.

Unlike some other countries, where social tendencies, religious and cultural beliefs, or political ideologies that are contrary to democratic principles exist, there is no incompatible traditional or religious belief system that is contrary to democratic fundamental principles in Burma. Although the social hierarchic system of communitarian society does exist favoring the authoritarian type of societal leadership role, this social system can be easily transformed and can co-exist with democracy. As democracy itself is progressive the society of Burma will experience the political development even after the regime is changed and the society will have to be transformed into a democratic type of open and free society based on individual freedom rather than a collective one. After a free and opened society is established, the traditional walls of social tenets will be rationalized and democratized along the progress of democratization. On the other hand, theoretically and practically the regime government's nationalism matters a lot for the domestic politics. Although the regime government politicizes national security and national integrity in order to defend and support its political legitimacy, nationalism itself in Burma does not contradict democratic principles. Nationalsim was useful at the time of anti-fascist and anti-colonial movement. However, the military regime's interpretation of nationalism goes against both political liberalization and democratization. Since time immemorial, Burma's political nature has been masculine and military-like, especially toward the rights of minorities. Before the British rule, the Bama kings were warlords, and "might is power" ruled in the society. At the time of independence movement in the 1940s, the 30 compatriots were militarily trained and military minded young leaders.

Although there is no significant balance of both political and military power in the opposition side, the overall factors that contribute to the opposition are strong enough to threaten the regime's status quo, unless it has competing progress against its challenge. The presence of popular leader noble laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of General Aung San, the Burma independent leader; the economic crisis; the public support of the opposition inside and outside Burma; and the international pressure are not negligible. However, the changing regional political nature of the East and South East Asian countries appear contributing in support of the military regime rather than strengthening the opposition or democratic movement. ASEAN's constructive engagement, China's support of the regime, and India's engagement with Burma both military and economically help the regime's political survival. Without the cooporation of Asian neighboring countries the international pressure cannot effectively take action against the regime.