The military coup group led by Min Aung Hlaing has been illegally seizing the country’s sovereignty for more than two years now. Not only is the country’s economy, population, health, etc. facing various sectors, but even in the face of collective pressure from the People’s Defense Force (PDF) and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), it seems that Min Aung Hlaing is not even thinking of changing the country’s power and “returning the army to the barracks” that the people want. The country’s sovereignty remains in the hands of the military. Why is the Burmese military so foolish that the relationship between the military and the public is irreparable? Why has military dictatorship endured so long?
In order to answer this question, political researchers offer various research findings. I would like to discuss some of the prominent theories among them first. Then, I would like to continue discussing the limitations of these 4 theories in analyzing Burmese politics. Then, based on the history of Myanmar’s independence and the evolution of the military, I would like to discuss the perceived role of the military and the results of this concept (in other words, the longevity of the military dictatorship).
In Latin America, Brazil, which was once a military dictatorship, Uruguay Chile Regarding the transition to democracy in countries such as Argentina, Robert Dix (1999) observed that democrats and dictators in these countries agreed to forget the tragedies of the past and focus on nation building. Before coming to power, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi not only repeatedly promised not to take any action against the military generals, but when Tai Pyi came to power, she even tried to resolve the most serious crime of the army to an international tribunal, but it did not work.
Daw Su was sentenced to a long prison term with various charges. Because the military seems to have only designated Daw Suu as a political puppet to be used in times of crisis. It seems that only the military is designated as the guardian who serves the interests of the country. It also proves that democracy cannot be achieved through negotiation.
David I. Steinberg says that the “unity among the military generals” made the dictatorship last. The author disagrees. Looking at the history of the Tatmadaw, we often see a power struggle between the top leaders. First of all, I want to make an example of Ne Win and Aung Gyi (+ Maung Maung). Ne Win, who came to power with the help of Aung Gyi and Maung Maung, later had a conflict with the two of them. It seems that Ne Win himself stepped down due to Aung Gyi’s open letters, but the dictatorship did not end.
Saw Maung, who succeeded Ne Win, also appointed Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt, and his rule came to an early end. Later, Than Shwe also removed Khin Nyunt. Therefore, it can be seen that the longevity of the military dictatorship is not due to unity among the top leaders of the Tatmadaw alone, nor is the end of the dictatorship due to competition between them.
Military leaders throughout the ages have often blamed colonial legacies for the country’s turbulent developments. Colonialism has indeed had negative effects. But if colonialism is identified as the cause of all the problems in the country, it would be a lack of responsibility and accountability. Matthew Lange and Andrew Dawson (2009) studied former colonial countries and examined 8 factors that contributed to extreme colonial unrest and civil war, and found that overall the effects of colonial legacies were limited.
Terence Lee (209) also found that when dictators faced popular uprisings, internal disintegration led to democratization. However, this finding is contrary to the reality of Myanmar. In 1947-48, the Tatmadaw not only suffered from internal disintegration, but also in 1988, 2007 and 2021, faced with strong popular uprisings, but did not transform into a democratic system. Factors such as wealth of resources, poverty, racism, religious superstition, diversity, and the weakness of the pillars of democracy can lead to the long life of a dictatorship, but they are not the main reason.
Analyzing the speeches and interviews of military dictators from Nay Win to Min Aung Hlaing, the main reason for the longevity of the dictatorship is the “perceived role of the military”. Generals throughout the ages have seen themselves as key figures in the national political leadership sector, transcending party politics.
This view is related to the freedom struggle. The role of the Burmese Independence Army (BIA) during the struggle for independence is true, but exploiting its historical importance and thinking that the army is the savior of the nation becomes a reason for the lack of accountability that follows. Captain Ne Win’s speech to the Burmese people on May 7, 1945 is exemplary. In that speech, U Ne Win said, “The Burmese Army is not only the hope of the country, but also the life of the country.”
If you look at the slogans of the Tatmadaw published in the 1990s, you can see that “The Army is the Mother, the Army is the Father” written widely. According to that speech and slogan, the generals who came up through the ages also came to adhere to the national political role of the Tatmadaw, and that perception was clearly written in the national constitutions. The 2008 Constitution is a notable example.
Regarding the 2021 coup d’état, using a computer software called ATLAS.ti, we will investigate whether the above historical traditions have continued to the present day. No (one way) The author researched and examined how the military views its own role and how authoritarianism perpetuates through this perspective. The authors found that the military’s “reluctance to relinquish power through the opinion that it is essential in the role of national political leadership, thinking that the country will fall apart if it relinquishes power” is the reason for the perpetuation of dictatorship.
In doing this research, a total of (26) Mainkhon speeches and 3 (3) interviews with the news media, which were delivered by the National League for Democracy from 2015 to 2021 before he seized power, were analyzed with historical analysis. In that analysis, (4) factors that could lead to a coup were compared. These (4) points are (1) statements about the military’s role in national political leadership, (2) pre-colonial and colonial histories and accusations of the colonial legacy on the current state of the country, (3) ethnic armed resistance. (4) Party politics (criticisms against the NLD party).
Looking at the frequency distribution of causal factors, out of a total of (104) times, there were (51) times about the national political leadership room of the Tatmadaw. Regarding ethnic armed organizations (22 times); Regarding criticisms of colonial history (20 times) and party politics (11 times), it was found that the role of the military was at the top. In describing the role of the army, it can be seen that (3) responsibilities are mentioned many times.
In summary, the main reason for the long life of the military dictatorship is the opinion of the generals of all ages on the role of war. Another is the military’s desire to influence and manipulate national politics. As long as the generals don’t stop (or can’t put enough pressure on the public to make them stop) the military dictatorship is unlikely to end easily.
Burma Library Online. From Fascist Bondage to New Democracy: The New Burma in the New World. Appendix 2 B., pp. 28-38. https://www.burmalibrary.org/docs13/Book19-ocr150.pdf
Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 2008
DIX, ROBERT H. 1994. “Military Coups and Military Rule in Latin America.” Armed Forces & Society, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 439–56. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/45347010.
Lange, Matthew, & Dawson, Andrew. 2009. “Dividing and Ruling the World? A Statistical Test of the Effects of Colonialism on Postcolonial Civil Violence.” Social Forces, 88(2), 786. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40645824
Lee, Terence. 2009. “The armed forces and transitions from authoritarian rule.” Comparative Political Studies 42(5): 640–669.
Myaing, Chit. 1997. “In His Own Words.” Burma Debate, vol. IV, no. 3.
Taylor, Robert. 2015. General Ne Win: A Political Biography. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing
Keenan, Paul. 2008. Saw Ba U Gyi. Karen History and Culture Preservation Society.
Written by: Tg. Mung Sian Kim (Tongsan Columnist), USA