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Friday, 26 May, 2000, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Burma: 10 years on
Burmese flag
May 27 marks 10 years since the election victory

By BBC Burma specialist Larry Jagan

Ten years ago, Burma's National League for Democracy (NLD) convincingly won the elections. But military rulers refused to recognise the results.

Little has changed since then.

Tight security is in place in Rangoon for the 10th anniversary. The opposition say several hundred opposition members have been detained throughout the country in the last few weeks.

This renewed crackdown on the opposition is in stark contrast to the situation a decade ago.

Then, on Saturday 27 May, the people of Burma voted to send the military back to the barracks when the military allowed a relatively free and fair election.

The military had seized power two years earlier after crushing the pro-democracy demonstrations.

The result shocked the Burmese generals. The NLD and its allies won more than 80% of the seats, despite the intimidation of pro-democracy candidates and Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest the year before.

The result was a clear reflection of the mood of the country. People wanted democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi to lead the country.

New constitution

The military refused to accept the result. It first claimed it was not an election for a parliament but an election for a national assembly to draft a new multi-party constitution.

A Burmese official holds up an empty ballot box to representatives of political parties in the May 1990 elections
A Burmese official holds up an empty ballot box to representatives of political parties in the May 1990 elections
It took the military government more than two years to begin drawing up the new constitution. But when the National Convention was formed, the parliamentarians were swamped by military-appointed delegates.

As each chapter of the constitution was slowly prepared it was clear the military authorities were carefully controlling the process.

The NLD refused to be part of this and withdrew from the National Convention three years ago. The constitution is yet to be completed.

But what is clear is that the military wants its role to be written into that constitution.

A quarter of the seats in the new parliament are to be reserved for the military, and the president must have had military experience, and therefore be a former general.

Siege mentality

Over the past decade, the military has carefully built a state within a state.

The people want Aung San Suu Kyi to lead the country
The people want Aung San Suu Kyi to lead the country
The only schools and colleges which are effectively operating are run by the military for their own children. The families of the military have exclusive access to the best medical care.

The soldiers and their dependents have become an exclusive group within the country.

Western military analysts believe the Burmese military leaders have developed a siege mentality. They don't trust any civilians - even those in government - and believes only soldiers can run the country.

Indonesian model

The military has long seen Indonesia as a model. The Indonesian constitution gave the military a permanent political role.

However, the events there over the last two years have made the Burmese military nervous.

It drew two lessons from President Suharto's fall: It believes Mr Suharto didn't suppress the students early enough and that he finally fell because the country ran out of rice.

There is no doubt that the Burmese military fear student protest - it has effectively kept the country's schools and colleges closed for more than 10 years.

Burma's strongman Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt
Burma's strongman Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt
Burma's military leaders are aware that the economy could be their undoing.

The government has selected some 50 national entrepreneurs to help regenerate the economy and ensure sufficient rice production.

Most analysts remain sceptical that the Burmese generals will be able to ensure economic growth and reduce the widespread malnutrition in the country.

At the same time the Burmese military is slowly building its own civilian structures throughout the country.

It has a compliant grassroots organisation, the United Solidarity Development Association, which it claims has 11 million members.

These work closely with the military throughout the country. But the men in uniforms run the country.

The military may claim that it is the only institution which can ensure safety and security, but, as the people of Burma showed 10 years ago, they want democracy and they want Aung San Suu Kyi to lead the country. Nothing has changed that.

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burmese forced labour condemned
27 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma warns opponents
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma clamps down on web
08 Aug 98 | Burma
Special report: Burma
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