comscore Reality in Burma differs from myths | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Island Voices

Reality in Burma differs from myths

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The agenda behind Robert Weiner’s and James Lewis’ commentary in Monday’s Star-Advertiser ("Laundered money from drugs that go through Hawaii helps keep Burma’s junta in power") seems clear: to keep pounding away at a myth created approximately 22 years ago by (mainly) the Western media, that the National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won national elections in 1990.

Yet, virtually every credible scholar of Burma has demonstrated that both the NLD and Suu Kyi knew at the time that these were constituent assembly elections, not national elections. They were meant to select representatives to a National Assembly to write a new Constitution, not to hand over the government to the party who received the most votes.

And to claim — as the authors did — that the "prime ministership," an office that didn’t exist, was denied her is absolute nonsense.

In fact, and although the NLD garnered about 65 percent of the seats in those Constituent Assembly elections, the party decided to boycott the writing of the new Constitution (in which more than 1,157 representatives from around the country participated) so that NLD’s voice, whose input was surely needed, never materialized — a consequence of its own decision not to participate.

Today, the Constitution of 2008 is the supreme law of the land without their input, some of whose provisions NLD members could have changed to suit their political aspirations. By boycotting them, all they did was allow the assembly a free hand in implementing uncontested what it wanted. Now, too, the Hlutdaw (parliament) elected in the Nov. 7 elections is the highest legislative body in the land, and will sit without the NLD beginning this week.

Indeed, the NLD’s decision to absent themselves from the National Assembly after the 1990 elections is, in part, the reason Suu Kyi was ineligible to run in the recent elections of Nov. 7: They had the votes to make sure that that particular ineligibility law disqualifying her was not written into the Constitution, but instead chose to play the role of "spoiler," a bane in both pre-modern and modern Burmese history.

Another thing much of the world does not know about, and seldom reported in the Western media, is the conflict within the NLD itself, as if it were one harmonious political party without any dissent.

In fact, there are two main factions. One is centered around a younger generation who from the start had wanted to compromise with the regime, knowing full well that the latter held the keys to the tanks.

The other is composed of what the Burmese refer to as "the uncles": These are the hardliners in the NLD composed of an older generation of ex-generals and politicians who had lost their positions and clout in the shuffle and wanted to regain their influence and power, so joined Suu Kyi’s party as it had widespread international support.

Suu Kyi had the unenviable position of trying to deal with both factions, although her behavior and rhetoric (until recently) seemed to favor "the uncles" over "the nephews."

In the 2010 elections, "the nephews" broke with "the uncles" (who had refused to participate), formed a new party called the National Democratic Force (NDF) and decided to run on that ticket. Several of their members actually won seats in both houses of Parliament so that they are now part of the power structure while the NLD is struggling to regroup as the anti-regime party. But with over 37 parties winning seats in parliament, the monopoly that the NLD — and Suu Kyi — once enjoyed as sole "speaker for the opposition" is no longer viable.

Given this new political context, Wiener’s and Lewis’ commentary appears to be an attempt to delegitimize the recent elections and bring back the past, using dubious reports about drug trafficking as a smokescreen.

I’m afraid Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again.

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