Published on Thursday, 15 August 2013 17:24 Written by Than Htut Aung
Silver Jubilee of "Four Eights Uprising" commemoration book and other historical images
A book to commemorate the “Four Eights Uprising” was published and launched in Mandalay, the former capital, last week. I reminisce many of the colleagues from 25 years back.
Not only it was a nostalgic occasion but I was also deeply saddened about those who made sacrifices during the “8888” Uprising.
I had turned my back on political activities since 1989. From that time on, we have witnessed the National League for Democracy (NLD) emerged as a national political movement and won the 1990 general election by a landslide. Then, NLD won the support of the masses from the entire nation as the people seek an end to military rule. I was 25-26 years old at the time. I often ask myself why I ended the political activism.
First, am I a coward? Can’t I devote myself to politics? I turned my back on politics not because of the solitary sense of fear.
Secondly, I didn’t totally agree with the mass rally on March 27, 1989 (The Armed Forces Day). At that time, confrontation reigned. From that day up the march on Martyrs’ Day in the same year, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) arrested activist students and Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the representatives of the NLD. Moreover, all political forces including the NLD were dismantled through various direct and indirect manipulations by the military junta.
Thirdly, democratic forces evaporate because of the lack of unity ranging from their own weak organization, negotiations and confrontation with the government.
From March 27, 1989 in Mandalay, we lost our way. That evening, I made up my mind to leave politics.
Now 25-year late and subsequent generations, there are new people in the Army as well as the Opposition. What are left unchanged are still the democratic changes. Aung San Suu Kyi is nearly 70 years old. The Constitution, the organizational skills, and mindset of the NLD are not that much different than the 25 years back.
In seeing Moe Thee Zun getting into a car after arriving at Yangon International Airport last June and Min Ko Naing signing autograph in the company of artists, I see an aging lot. From the generation X or Y, we now have the generation Z who will vote in the 2015 general election.
Yet, our country is still the poorest in Southeast Asia, and one of the three poorest in Asia. It is ironic just say Myanmar is rich in natural resources. Our forest areas have declined to 19 percent from 51 percent in the past two and half decades. The country has proportionally the least forest areas in among countries in Southeast Asia. Instead of blaming dictators, I sometimes put blame on myself for lacking common sense, cowardice and lack of unity. I feel shameful and lacking in the sense of duty. I left politics 25 years ago. Now what am I!
Two weeks ago, Cambodia’s democratic dictator Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 28 years, won another national election. The election displayed tricky voting results, but it was within the frame of law. For that reason, Cambodian opposition leader from the Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy couldn’t say much except to object to the results.
Last week, the world’s oldest leader, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe won an election by a landslide. Despite objection to the results, there were no plausible options for Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The election saw recognition from the African Union. So will Tsvangirai now urge his supporters to take to the street to protest! Although he shared the power with Mugabe since 2008, he was politically skillful. So he just ended up tracking behind the cunning Mugabe.
Both Mugabe and Hun Sen are in control of their respective armies and police forces. Democratic activists and NGOs are subject to legal restrictions on their activities. Both leaders have the media under their thumbs through legal and other means. The tactics are not new nor are the various tricks used in the elections. Both Zimbawe and Cambodia are poor and have huge income gaps. Their reputations are not credible. In this situation, how Myanmar will go ahead!
The options of people taking to the street, economic sanction, civil war, arm conflicts, unrests, lawlessness and poverty will lead to an outcome of a failed state eventually. These are not options for 2015-2016.
Section 18, organizing bills passed by Ministry of Home Affairs, and the press bill are controversial issues in Myanmar. No countries enact six bills including press bill and one after another are being submitted to Parliament. The government is pushing through over 80 among 100 bills into laws. Judicial and legislation pillars are being monopolized by the executive branch. (It can also remove the Constitutional Tribunal). Such situation is dangerous for the country.
Myanmar faces difficulties on the constitution amendment, religious conflicts, vested interest of crony businesses and corruptions. Middle class and poor people are losing hope and more of them are seeking to migrate to look for better prospects overseas in the past six months. Even young girls are not heeling to warning of being sold off as prostitutes if they try to China illegally, or being insecure if they try to go Muslim countries.
During the revolutionary era, it could be said that Mandalay exercised political discipline more than others. Mandalay’s situation was dissimilar to that of Yangon. Members of the so called Division Law and Order Restoration resigned to avoid confrontation with protesting residents. The United Boycott Committee whose members include Buddhist monks, city’s elders and departmental officials at regional level controlled the local administration. The courts of law were also working throughout the period.
The Chairman Sayadaw of the United Boycott Committee, U Kaveinda, was about 35 to 40 years old but he was a preaching monk who also strictly adhered to Vinaya (code of conduct for Buddhist monks). Even my father who was a division level official praised him of being a disciplined Dhamma monk (doctrine of Buddha). He managed administrative activities at the meetings in line with the precepts of Dhamma. Even though I was not engaged in the United Boycott, I was friendly with two monks - U Kaveinda and U Javeda. Both had a wide range of knowledge in the politics and Buddha literature. After the ceremony held in memory of Kansaung Pwe in 1990, the State Law and Order Restoration Council Government arrested both of them. They suffered hardship in prison and passed away at the age of 50 after their release.
I disconnected myself with the whole political scene so I didn’t know about their death. (partly because I was afraid.) These two monks are Sasana martyrs like U Ottama. While they were in prison, they lived with precepts of Buddha. (They were brave, sacrificed their lives, righteous, and lived in strict order to Buddha teaching.)
Respective military columns staged their power in Mandalay. Religious sermons were also held at that time. Organizational movements were also found in all parts of Myanmar. Party and council members resigned from posts all over the country. The Boycott Committee had taken hold from the authoritative. The power of Burmese Socialist Programme Party took effect only the Voice of Myanmar state media, and President Office near Windamere in Yangon. However, the armed forces put up billboards in front of their battalions expressing “Only Tamadaw is mother and father”, and “we’ll be united whoever divided us”, and Tamadaw forgot people’s demand for democracy. The people had no trust in them because they cracked down on the members of the public involved in the start of the 8888 disturbance.
I remember the words of two men on this occasion every time that the military seized state’s power. One was Thein Than Oo (75-76) and he was a student leader (communist), and another one was Ne Win Maung. These two men sounded the bell to Than Htut Aung, “You can’t win yet.”
To be continued
- Dr Than Htut Aung’s speech on Digital Media launching ceremony
- I Will Tell the Real Truth (17)
- High expectations as Myanmar takes Asean helm
- Corruption in Myanmar: take down the real villains
- Myanmar's turn in the spotlight can have benefits
- Ways for Myanmar to make better headway
- I will tell the real truth (16) - Part (2)
- Leaders have to decide
- I will tell the real truth (16) - Part (1)
- I will tell the real truth (15) ...