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parliamentary government

Government of Burma

The government of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is an authoritarian dictatorial regime which is controlled by the military (Tatmadaw) in the form of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). A parliamentary government was elected in 1990, but the military prevented it from convening.

Political conditions

Historically, Burma was a monarchy ruled by various dynasties prior to the 19th century. The British colonized Burma in the late 19th century, and it was under the jurisdiction of the British Raj until 1937.

Burma was ruled as a British colony from the 1820’s until 1948. While the Bamar heartland was directly administered (first as a part of India and then, from 1937, as British Burma), ethnic regions outside the heartland were allowed some measure of self-rule along the lines of the Princely States of India. This led to split loyalties among the various ethnic groups to outside powers (either to the British or Japanese) as well between the indigenous people in Burma. The dominant ethnic group in Burma are the Burmans, who make up approximately sixty-eight percent of the population. During World War Two, many ethnically Burman soldiers volunteered to fight alongside the Japanese in hopes of overthrowing the occupying British forces. Meanwhile, the majority of ethnic minority groups supported the Allied forces in combating the Japanese and Burman forces. This conflict would come to be very significant in the aftermath of World War Two when Burma was granted its independence from Great Britain in 1948. By granting independence to Burma, the British government gave the new ruler, Aung San, control over areas that were not traditionally controlled by the same ethnic group as the Burman colony. This conglomeration of formerly British-owned land created a state that is home to over twenty distinct minority ethnic groups.

From the time of the signing of the Burmese Constitution in 1948, ethnic minorities have been denied Constitutional rights, access to lands that were traditionally controlled by their peoples and participation in the government. The various minority ethnic groups have been consistently oppressed by the dominant Burman majority, but have also suffered at the hands of warlords and regional ethnic alliances. Religion also plays a role in the ethnic conflicts that have taken place. Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists all live in Burma. These religious differences have led to several incidences that have impacted hundreds of thousands of citizens in Burma. In 1991, approximately 250,000 Muslim Rohingyas (an ethnic group from southwestern Burma) were forced from their homes by Burman forces. They crossed the border into Bangladesh, where they were given refugee status and aid from the international community that was not available to them inside Burma.

The current government of Burma is led by Prime Minister (and General) Thein Sein. This current regime has been responsible for the displacement of several hundred thousand citizens, both inside and outside of Burma. The Karen, Karenni, and Mon ethnic groups have been forced to seek asylum in neighboring Thailand, where they are also abused by an unfriendly and unsympathetic government. These groups are perhaps more fortunate than the Wa and Shan ethnic groups who have become Internally Displaced Peoples in their own state since being removed from lands by the military junta in 2000. There are reportedly 600,000 of these Internally Displaced Peoples living in Burma today. Many are trying to escape forced labor in the military or for one of the many state-sponsored drug cartels. This displacement of peoples has led to both human rights violations as well as the exploitation of minority ethnic groups at the hands of the dominant Burman group. The primary actors in these ethnic struggles include but are not limited to the Government of Burma (junta), the Karen National Union and the Mong Tai Army.

Independence era

On January 4 1948, Burma achieved independence from Britain, and became a democracy based on the parliamentary system.

In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members. On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities. The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.

AFPFL/Union Government

In 1961, U Thant, then Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organization and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years. Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi.

Military socialist era

In 1962, General Ne Win led a coup d'état and established a nominally socialist military government that sought to follow the "Burmese Way to Socialism." The military expropriated private businesses and followed an economic policy of autarky, or economic isolation.

SPDC era

The current Head of State is Senior General Than Shwe who holds the title of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council." His appointed prime minister was Khin Nyunt until 19 October 2004, when he was forcibly deposed in favor of Gen. Soe Win. Almost all cabinet offices are held by military officers.

US and European government sanctions against the military government, combined with consumer boycotts and shareholder pressure organized by Free Burma activists, have succeeded in forcing most western corporations to withdraw from Burma. However, some western oil companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions. For example, the French oil company Total S.A. and the American oil company Chevron continue to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) is the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for alleged complicity in human rights abuses along the gas pipeline. Before it was acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar lawsuit for a reported multi-million dollar amount. Asian businesses, such as Daewoo, continue to invest in Burma, particularly in natural resource extraction.

The United States and European clothing and shoe industry became the target of Free Burma activists for buying from factories in Burma that were wholly or partly owned by the government or the military. Many stopped sourcing from Burma after protests, starting with Levi Strauss in 1992. From 1992 to 2003, Free Burma activists successfully forced dozens of clothing and shoe companies to stop sourcing from Burma. These companies included Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Macy's, J. Crew, JoS. A. Banks, Children's Place, Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart, and Target. The U.S. government banned all imports from Burma as part of the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" of 2003. Sanctions have been criticized for their adverse effects on the civilian population. However, Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly credited sanctions for putting pressure on the ruling military regime.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented egregious human rights abuses by the military government. There is no independent judiciary in Burma and the military government suppresses political activity. The government restricts Internet access, including blocking of Google, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail. The government uses software-based filtering from US company Fortinet to limit the materials citizens can access on-line, including free email services, free web hosting and most political opposition and pro-democracy pages.

In 2001, the government permitted NLD office branches to re-open throughout Burma. However, they were shut down or heavily restricted beginning 2004, as part of a government campaign to prohibit such activities. In 2006, many members resigned from NLD, citing harassment and pressure from the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) and the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

The military government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again on May 31, 2003, following an attack on her convoy in northern Burma by a mob reported to be in league with the military. The regime extended her house arrest for yet another year in late November 2005. Despite a direct appeal by Kofi Annan to Than Shwe and pressure from ASEAN, the Burmese government extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006.

The junta faces increasing international isolation. Burma's situation was referred to at the UN (United Nations) Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. ASEAN has also stated its frustration with Burma's government. However, China and Russia continue to support the junta. Both countries vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on Burma in January 2007.

According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on April 18, 2007, several of its members (Myint Aye, Maung Maung Lay, Tin Maung Oo and Yin Kyi) were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local USDA Secretary U Nyunt Oo and beaten up. Due to the attack, Myint Hlaing and Maung Maung Lay were badly injured and are now hospitalized. The HRDP believes that this attack was condoned by the authorities and vows to take legal action. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters was formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Burma about their human rights.

New constitution

Myanmar's army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved (by 92.4% of the 22 million voters with alleged voter turnout of 99%) on May 10 in the first phase of a two-stage referendum amid Cyclone Nargis. It was the first national vote since the 1990 election. 2010 multi-party elections in 2010 would end 5 decades of military rule, as the new charter gives the military an automatic 25% of seats in parliament. NLD spokesman Nyan Win, inter alia, criticized the referendum: "This referendum was full of cheating and fraud across the country; In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything. The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi, from public office. 5 million citizens will vote May 24 in Yangon and the Irrawaddy delta, worst hit by Cyclone Nargis.

Executive branch

|Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council |Than Shwe | |April 23 1992 |- |Prime Minister |Thein Sein | |24 October 2007 |} The Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council is both the chief of state and de facto head of government. The council oversees the cabinet, presided by the prime minister.

Members of Government of Burma

Office Name Since
Prime Minister THEIN SEIN, Gen.
Min. of Agriculture & Irrigation HTAY OO, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Commerce TIN NAING THEIN, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Communications, Post, & Telegraph THEIN ZAW, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Construction SAW TUN, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Cooperatives TIN HTUT, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Culture KHIN AUNG MYINT, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Defense THAN SHWE, Sr. Gen.
Min. of Education CHAN NYEIN, Dr.
Min. of Electric Power 1 ZAW MIN, Col.
Min. of Electric Power 2 KHIN MYAUNG MYINT, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Energy LUN THI, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Finance & Revenue HLA TUN, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Foreign Affairs NYAN WIN, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Forestry THEIN AUNG, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Health KYAW MYINT, Dr.
Min. of Home Affairs MAUNG OO, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Hotels & Tourism SOE NAING, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Immigration & Population SAW LWIN, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Industry 1 AUNG THAUNG
Min. of Industry 2 SOE THEIN, Vice Adm.
Min. of Information KYAW HSAN, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Labor AUNG KYI
Min. of Livestock Breeding & Fisheries MAUNG MAUNG THEIN, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Mines OHN MYINT, Brig. Gen.
Min. of National Planning & Economic Development SOE THA
Min. of Progress of Border Areas, National Races, & Development Affairs THEIN NYUNT, Col.
Min. of Rail Transport AUNG MIN, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Religious Affairs THURA MYINT MAUNG, Brig. Gen.
Min. of Science & Industry THAUNG
Min. of Social Welfare, Relief, & Resettlement MAUNG MAUNG SWE, Maj. Gen.
Min. of Sports THURA AYE MYINT, Brig. Gen.
Min. for Transport THEIN SWE, Maj. Gen.

Legislative branch

A unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw), in which 492 seats are elected by popular vote in four-year terms, has never convened. The last elections were held May 271990.

1990 People's Assembly election results
Party Votes Seats %
Pop. Seats
National feague for Democracy (NfD) 7,943,622 392 58.7 79.7
Shan Nationalities feague for Democracy (SNfD) 222,821 23 1.7 4.7
Minor parties and independents 1,606,858 12 12.1 2.4
Arakan feague for Democracy (AfD) 160,783 11 1.2 2.2
National Unity Party (NUP) 2,805,559 10 2.1 2.0
Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) 138,572 5 1.0 1.0
National Democratic Party for Human Rights 128,129 4 1.0 0.8
Chin National feague for Democracy 51,187 3 0.4 0.1
Kachin State National Congress for Democracy 13,994 3 0.1 0.1
Party for National Democracy 72,672 3 0.5 0.1
Union Pa-O National Organisation 35,389 3 0.3 0.1
Democratic Organisation for Kayah National Unity 16,553 2 0.1 -
Kayah State Nationalities League for Democracy 11,664 2 0.1 -
Naga Hills Regional Progressive Party 10,612 2 0.1 -
Ta-ang (Palaung) National League for Democracy 16,553 2 0.1 -
Zomi National Congress (ZNC) 18,638 2 0.1 -
Total valid votes (87.7% of total cast) 13,253,606 492 100.0
Invalid votes 1,858,918
Valid votes (72.6% turnout) 15,112,524
Eligible voters 20,818,313
Source: psephos.adam-carr.net 

Judicial system

Burma's judicial system is limited. British-era laws and legal systems remain much intact, but there is no guarantee of a fair public trial. The judiciary is not independent of the executive branch. Burma does not accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

Chief Justice of Supreme Court: AUNG TOE

Attorney General: AYE MAUNG

Wareru dhammathat

Wareru dhammathat was the earliest law-book in Burma. It consists of laws ascribed to the ancient Indian sage, Manu, and brought to Burma by Hindu colonists. The collection was made at Wareru’s command, by monks from the writings of earlier Mon scholars preserved in the monasteries of his kingdom. (Wareru seized Martaban in 1281 and obtained the recognition of China as the ruler of Lower Burma and founded a kingdom which lasted until 1539. Martaban was its first capital, and remained so until 1369. It stretched southwards as far as Tenasserim.)

Dammazedi pyatton

Mon King Dammazedi (1472-92) was the greatest of the Mon rulers of Wareru’s line. He was famous for his wisdom and the collection of his rulings were recorded in the Kalyani stone inscriptions and known as the Dammazedi pyatton.

Administrative divisions

Burma is divided into seven divisions (taing) and seven states (pyi-nè), classified by ethnic composition. The seven divisions are Ayeyarwady Division, Bago Division, Magway Division, Mandalay Division, Sagaing Division, Tanintharyi Division and Yangon Division; the seven states are Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin State, Kayah State, Mon State, Rakhine State and Shan State.

International organization participation

AsDB, ASEAN, CCC, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IMF, IMO, Intelsat (nonsignatory user), Interpol, IOC, ITU, NAM, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, GJC

Burmese Democracy and Human Rights online media

There are a number of web sites for more information, you can start off at the following:

  1. Globalissues,HumanRights Abuses in Burma.
  2. Burma Digest
  3. Irrawaddy, English.
  4. Irrawaddy, Burmese.
  5. Mizzima News in English
  6. Mizzima News in Burmese
  7. Mizzima TV
  8. DVB Democratic Voice of Burma.
  9. Khit Pyaing, The New Era Journal.(Burmese)
  10. Khit Pyaing, The New Era Journal.(English)
  11. Moe Maka, Burmese.
  12. Burmanet news.

References

Sources

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