Friday, February 18, 2005

From Opposition-led to Opposition-less Change Process in Burma

From Opposition-led to Opposition-less Change Process in Burma

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Not unlike the official state media in Burma, the opposition media by and large appears to operate as a propaganda machine albeit within the opposition's established or favored paradigm of how change in Burma is going to come out. Any analysis that doesn't fit this mainstream reasoning or perspective is generally disregarded or ignored. It is hardly conincidental that a veteran politician Ludhu Sein Win who resides inRangoon, a regular listener to foreign radio broadcast, has written a lengthy piece in Burmese language, shedding light on the role of media in a democraticsociety. It has long been observed that freedom fighters, in long and protractedconflicts, tend to behave more like the tyrants and oppressors they are fighting against. The same way the SPDC will not allow any room for dissent, the mainstream opposition will show similar type and degree of intolerance - an antithesis of democratic process and behavior - toward dissent in its midst.

This observation applies to both the opposition-dominated foreign-based radiobroadcasts, as well as print- and on-line media. Further, it has long been a well-kept secret - or an open secret - that the National League for Democracy doesn't deal very well with any alternative or imaginative ideas and proposals which the top leadership doesn't like. As the first item indicates the NLD has sacked nine of its own members some of whom were at one point or other very close to the top leadership. This is a part of a long process of self-destruction which the opposition has been engaged in. The social-pschological situation is such that many freedom fighters, who do not see eye to eye among themselves can not stand one another, let alone first dialogue and iron out differences among themselves.

This has been a part ofBurma's sub-culture among politicians since nationalist days. Indeed the more things change the more they stay the same.

And yet we continue to demand, ritualistically, a dialogue with the men on horseback who "hold power" in Burma and who do not quite share our mission of establishing a liberal democracy, with an emphasis on political freedoms and rights. Of interest to you may be the principles which, the exiles in Thailand, with assistance from foreign constitutional experts and scholars, came up with for a future Constitution for Burma.

I wish their choice of principles included something like "the State will not only be secular but also de-ethnicized". But again neither is feasible in the context of Burma. In some of the sub-political cultures, both dominant and subaltern, secularizationof politics is impossible. The Chin, one of the two predominantly Christianminorities (the other is the Kachin in the north), will have a hard time,"doing or understanding politics" outside of their Christian faith.

By the same token, it is hardly imaginable that the predominantly Buddhist majority will ever accept anyone who is not a Buddhist to be the country'sleader. {There were a few exceptions wherein non-Buddhists who rose toprominence - such as Dr. Ba Maw (the Christian puppet Chancellor of Burma underJapanese occupation), U Razak (the Muslim principal of National School inMandalay), U Pe Khin (the Muslim head of the border affairs for Aung San's Anti-fascist People's Freedom League and his key operator dealing with minorityissues)}.

It is not that the Burmese political culture vis-a-vis non-authoritarian systems in technologically advanced nations is backward in this secularist vs religion-influenced State. For instance, the United States, the oldest democracy, is going through a rather interesting process where even highly educated liberals and left-of-the-center politicians are publicly reaffirming their faith in the Creator, to establish their political legitimacy or appeal through Divine Connections.

Be that as it may, it is a good thing that both the regime and the opposition are keenly interested in the constitution drafting process and that they are engaged in their respective intellectual or political exercises toward the goal of selling - and institutionalizing, in the case of the regime in power - it to the public (and the election-minded Western world).

But the society at large appears to be utterly alienated from the political process as they respond to their day-to-day hardship of surviving yet another conflict-ridden phase, with political elite of all stripes having their horns locked.

On one hand, the populace seems to despise the regime that is irrational and oppressive, holding on to their pipe-dream that 101th Airborne from US will come and do the job which the opposition has been unable to do.

On the other hand, the populace is completely un-inspired by the opposition,leadership or grassroots, exiled or in-country.

Students of social transformation know that change is a result of interactions between human agency and impersonal processes. Burma clearly has a human agency in the form of an official opposition (and peraps those within thepolitical establishment that may share the desire for change if change doesn't mean they land on their head). But the greatest irony is that the very human agency that could, theoretically, guide the change process is keeping these impersonal processes - especially economic - at bay.

Who would have thought 25 years ago Communists in Hanoi and Beijing would choose to unleash Schumpeterian process of "creative destruction" (attendant to the spread of Capital), ushering in a new era of changes in Vietnam and China? Sadly, we in the opposition continue to misplace our faith in Burmese Communist-inspired and/or -organized popular uprisings and sudden regime collapse, disregarding the institutional and structural issues at work. And journalists, seasoned or amateur, chime in, continuing to puff up the image of an opposition that has been manufactured as the indispensable force for changein Burma, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

But again evidence is for scholars and, perhaps crime scene detectives, not for propagandists on either side of the isle.

One might be tempted to ask: is it possible for change in Burma to occurwithout the opposition-led push? If so, how does one go about shifting the paradigm of change, from opposition-led process to opposition-less process. If the ultimate goal is change for the better in Burma, then we should exploreways to facilitate change, with or without the official opposition, in the driver's seat. Who drives the car is secondary to the fact that we get frompoint A to point B.

To borrow the late Deng Xioping (sp?)'s famous expression, "it doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catchesmouse."

The cat, in Burma's case, will likely be neither the establishment nor the official oppostion. It will be corporate driven globalization and all the integral components of intellecual, cultural, economic, political and environmenal processes.