Burma: Don’t Believe the Hype

Burma President Thein Sein

Burma President Thein Sein

Some are comparing the glimpses of freedom’s daylight in Burma to F.W. De Klerk handing over South Africa to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. Leave us not be too hasty. The Associated Press reports:

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has postponed a trip to central Myanmar because she could not obtain permission to hold a political gathering at a football stadium there, a party official said Thursday. … The law requires that applications be made at least seven days in advance. Ohn Kyaing [a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy] said the NLD asked football authorities for use of the stadium, but the football federation said Mandalay’s Election Commission must first approve the request. However, the Election Commission said the NLD needed to obtain permission from the football federation first.

Whichever organization fears the wrath of the generals more:

The failure to receive Election Commission permission strikes a sour note in the reconciliation process under the reforms of the elected but military-backed government of President Thein Sein.

Meanwhile Burma activist Maung Zarni of the London School of Economics writes (not online):

Despite the unfolding hysteria and hyperbolistic characterization of Burma today as “on the verge of great transformation”, I remain unpersuaded that the country is on the road towards democratization. … Those who rule the country now are the same guys who have ruled the country for the past 20 years. … Yes, people change. Belligerent generals can become “reconcilers.” [But there] is no moment of political awakening in the ruling quarter.

In fact, writes Zarni

Unlike de Klerk and his Afrikana [sic] colleagues in South Africa, the same old bunch of generals and ex-generals who are in power in Naypyidaw have not modified the political system in any appreciable or significant ways. The Afrikanas decided to DISMANTLE apartheid in South Africa … and let Mandela and his ANC comrades to run the show, in exchange for safeguards of life, liberty and property of the White minority.

Does anybody see “the generals and ex-generals doing that?” Zarni asks. By which he means:

… dismantle the military-run parliament, retire military men, ex- or in-service, from all line ministries, stop issuing unwritten orders to the judiciary, and withdraw from the civil administration from the village level — in exchange for their ill-gotten billions, millions, and above and underground resources? Don’t hold your breath.

Their plan, Zarni writes:

… through the soft-spoken President Thein Sein — the Burmese have a term for this type of operator — “Kyaung Chi”, meaning soft cat shit which looks and feels soft, but equally stinky and potent, it attempted to turn ‘that woman’ [Suu Kyi, of course] into a tool to get US sanctions that block any type of World Bank/ADB and IMF ‘assistance’ to Burma.

Or as Simon Roughneen reports at the Irrawaddy:

Behind the scenes, an 11-man National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) is said to be exercising real control, leaving President Thein Sein as the moderate-sounding front man attempting to launder the reputation of a cabal of military strongmen nationalists, who want Western sanctions lifted and to reduce the influence of an increasingly powerful China on their country.

Meanwhile, writes Zarni:

… it’s clear without serious and genuine change, the Lady isn’t going to give them a blank check. So, the regime is going to be less inclined to continue playing ‘nice nice’ with the Lady.

Thus the denial of the stadium permit.