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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/1/13

No Change in favour of the grassroots in Burma

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Zin Linn
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The people of Burma/Myanmar especially ethnic populace remain unconvinced of political change under the existing President U Thein Sein administration that claims to be a reformist establishment. The reason is that the regime just changes its clothes rather than its totalitarian traditions. It has revealed its true character by using force on recent peaceful protests of civilians including anti-copper mine protests that occurred in November last year.

On November 29, 2012, in Monywa, Sagaing Division, riot police brutally ran over six protest camps at the Letpadaung copper mine, arrested an indefinite number of protesters, and injured at least 100, including many with severe burns. During the crackdown, the riot police had used inflammable bombs while they raided the camps where monks slept peacefully in the early hours of a full-moon day.  The regime used riot police equipped with harmful weapons, although there was no situation of riot or disorder.

A similar case occurred on 25 April, 2013, during a police attack on local villagers who have been ploughing in their disputed farmland as a sign of protest in the environs of the controversial Latpadaung copper-mine project. At least one person was shot and five individuals arrested, according to media news. Actually, the anti-copper mine protesters were just espousing their citizens' rights saying the mine had severely damaged their livelihood, environment and cultural heritage.

According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, local villagers and activists have been calling for the shutting down of the Latpadaung Copper Mine, a joint-venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Wanbao, a subsidiary to a Chinese arms manufacturer, which they claim is responsible for the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and has displaced farmers from 66 villages.

People see this police crackdown on villagers as an unchanged dictatorial practice by the so-called civilian government led by President U Thein Sein who declares himself a reformist and guardian of farmers.

The most questionable topic of the political reform is also embedded in the gravity of the country's military elite, since they make the most of the country's natural resources through the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).

The country has also been criticized over its ineffectual measures for change. Although poverty alleviation is one item on the reform agenda, farmers and workers are distressed that their land and property has been unlawfully confiscated by the military, local authorities and their cronies. The country's latest founded Union Parliament as well as Supreme Court cannot afford to protect the rights of the countryside farmers and deprived ethnic populace.

Moreover, the ethnic armed-struggles over political and economic rights are also closely tied up with the socioeconomic inequality in the country's ethnic populated regions. Although ceasefires and peace talks have taken place, there are fresh offensives in Kachin and Shan States in recent times. The military commanders who ruled the country over five decades monopolize much of the nation's natural properties, and have sold some of this to China at low-prices that caused citizens to accuse China of expansionism under a disguise of friendship.

The recent anti-Muslim violence is a gambit that actually changes the focus of people's grievances from the anti-China perspective. It's a risky game by the Government to safeguard Chinese projects including Myitsone dam projects, Letpadaung copper-mine venture and a twin oil and gas pipeline from Kyaukpru in the southeastern Arakan State of Burma, across Kachin State, to China's Yunnan province.

It is easier said than done to create a successful political change in this country unless the government can achieve societal sufficiency and constant progress in the daily lives of common people. In turn, it is difficult to see successful economic transformation without political reliability that guarantees a departure from the dictatorial past.

It is also essential to adjust the economic inequalities caused by the military cartels and their cronies in the lead up to the general elections in 2015. To seize on the potential benefits during its transformation period, the quasi-civilian government needs to make up its mind about how to amend the controversial constitution.

Even though it uses the slogan "Change', the government was formed with former military generals, who themselves wrote the 2008 Constitution. The biggest flaw in the constitution is the privileged 25 percent of seats in parliament that are reserved for soldiers who are basically appointed to the legislative body by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

So far, following five decades of military rule, some of the hardest political stumbling blocks remain, as well as the military elite that still hold decisive power. For instance, the eleven-member National Defense and Security Council, along with the President, have the constitutional right to declare an emergency at any time.

Most importantly, even though the government has repeatedly said it will restore the rule of law, its respective authorities, including the local administrators, judges and police, still abuse their power without restraint. The military and its cronies are still above the law and as a result, corruption and abuse of power is ubiquitous.

Unless there is genuine measures toward political change initiated by the government, such as releasing the remaining political prisoners including human rights defenders, returning the confiscated farmlands to the poor farmers and genuine talks with all political stakeholders, Burma's long-drawn-out political stalemate will not be addressed easily.  
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Zin Linn was born on February 9, 1946 in a small town in Mandalay Division. He began writing poems in 1960 and received a B.A (Philosophy) in 1976. He became an activist in the High School Union after the students' massacre on 7th July 1962. (more...)

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