Burma: The Year Ahead

Dec 29, 2010

Is Burma on the cusp of change? Will 2011 be radically different or will it just be more of the same? Here is a month-by-month look at what the New Year might bring for Burma.


January is unlikely to be politically dynamic, but the ruling government will be making plans to finish its seven-step road map.

“Now, plans are underway to implement the two remaining steps [to convene a parliament and build 'a modern, developed democratic nation'] to hand over State power to the public,” junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe said in his message to the people on the country's National Day on 1 Dec 2010.



This could be the last month for the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the governing body of the ruling military regime, if the generals feel secure enough to hand over power to a new government.

Should the Burmese people feel relieved that they are no longer under military rule?

The 2008 Constitution says parliament must sit within 90 days of an election. This means 5 February is the deadline for the country’s first parliament to convene with the newly elected candidates, which will then form a new government with the selection of a president and two vice presidents. The SPDC will then be terminated.

Should the Burmese people feel relieved that they are no longer under military rule? You know who won the last election: the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the junta’s party. So the answer is clear.

Will February mark the beginning of confrontations between the ruling junta and the opposition groups? Shortly before the last election, several prominent ethnic leaders and politicians proposed to convene a second Panglong conference for national reconciliation. Soon after Suu Kyi was released on 13 November, 109 veteran politicians and ethnic leaders gave her a mandate to lead an effort to convene the conference.

Some say the conference should be held on 12 February, which is the 64th anniversary of Union Day,. That was when, back in 1947, independence leader Aung San, the father of Suu Kyi, and selected ethnic leaders signed the Panglong agreement to gain independence from Britain.

The conference idea is good, but unrealistic at the moment. It would lead to a head-on confrontation between the government and opposition groups. What if it led to a brutal crackdown od the opposition and ethnic groups? The number of political prisoners (more than 2,100) would soar, and Suu Kyi would again be detained. Surely, Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders will not risk such a confrontation.



Burma is likely to have a new government by now if everything goes smoothly in convening the parliament (though there is no time frame to form a government after convening the parliament). The new government will inaugurate a new name for the country, ‘the Republic of the Union of Myanmar’, changing the current name “the Union of Myanmar.” Will it really be a new government? We could get a sign of that on March 13, when Human Rights Day ceremonies will be held to marking the day when Phone Maw, a Rangoon engineering university student, was killed by the then Socialist regime's security forces in 1988.

Human Rights Day was created by pro-democracy groups to mark Phone Maw's death. It has always been illegal in Burma.

The government will come out in full force on 27 March to celebrate Tatmadaw Day (armed forces day). The new government, though it is ‘civilian’ in name, will celebrate the day in massive ceremonies at Naypyidaw, along with the new crop of military generals who have replaced those promoted to positions in parliament.



People will celebrate the Burmese new year with water festival gatherings. They will remember what happened at the Rangoon water festival in 2010, when bombs killed an estimated 20 people and injured more than 100. The military government said terrorists were responsible for the blasts.

Could bombings happen again in 2011? Of course.

Could bombings happen again in 2011? Of course. The background is grim: tensions have escalated on the border between government troops and ethnic armed groups. All ceasefire groups are under constant pressure to transform into a Border Guard Force controlled by the government.

An ethnic Karen armed group attacked outposts of the government's security forces in Myawaddy and Three Pagoda Pass, towns along the Thailand-Burma border. Such attacks, including bombings of civilian targets, will go on as long as the tensions can't be resolved through political means.



This month will bring memories of happiness and anger. In 1990, 27 May was when millions of Burmese voters got a chance to choose their elected representatives. The National League for Democracy won in a landslide. But the government was never formed with elected candidates, and now the junta's Union Solidarity and Development Party, is convening a new parliament. vAnother bitter event this month was the deadly attack in 2003 against Suu Kyi and her supporters, who were ambushed by thugs organized by the military government's civil organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the mother organization of USDP. Who can guarantee that a new government led by former senior members of the USDA won't orchestrate another move to remove her from the political arena?



Suu Kyi will at least be able to hold birthday celebrations with her colleagues and friends freely on June 19 – provided she's been able to avoid arrest and detention.

Former student activists who took part in the 1988 uprising will never forget June 16 and 17, when student demonstrators were beaten by riot police and arrested. Many were injured and hundreds were thrown behind bars.

Aung San Suu Kyi will celebrate her 66th birthday on June 19. Here's a beautiful dream: If Suu Kyi had been given a chance to play a key role in a government formed after her party won in the 1990 election, today's Burma might look totally different.

Twenty years can make a country politically stable, economically prosperous and developed in areas such as education and technology, all under a democratic government. Imagine no political prisoners in the country's jails.

Regionally, Suu Kyi's role as a key leader of a government would create a better relationship with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Her voice on democracy, human rights and other issues would have been heard at ASEAN summits, which would be very likely to have had a positive impact on these countries.

Back to reality: Suu Kyi will at least be able to hold birthday celebrations with her colleagues and friends freely on June 19 – provided she's been able to avoid arrest and detention.


281 Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi by Irina Belova, 2009, oil on canvas 70x100 cm (Credit: http://newspoles.ru/En/Hs/Art.G/Art.G.en.html)