Nay Htun Naing
The 1990 general election will mark its 25th anniversary on May 27.
The election was not held freely and fairly. The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) did not hand over the power to the people.
General Saw Maung, the coup leader of 1988, gave promises repeatedly before the election that the military regime would hand over State power to the government that won the election and they would return to the barracks. Lieutenant-General Than Shwe and Major-General Khin Nyunt also said so.
But when the '90 election gave the result they had not expected, their tone of voice changed; they did not transfer the administrative power. They said the election was for a constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution and the transfer of power would have been made only after the new constitution had been written.
There were 20 million eligible voters and more than 15 million [72.59 per cent] cast votes in the 1990 election. The National League for Democracy (NLD) scored a victory, securing 392 constituencies out of 485.
If the election was just for drafting charter, there would not be such a large number of voters. People went to the polls only because they believed the election was to form a new government and the junta would hand over the power to the winning party.
But they were all deceived.
That was the first time of voting fraud in the country’s election history. The act of ruling out the election result was also the cruellest deception. This dishonesty lives on till its silver jubilee.
The 2015 general election is around the corner; approximately only six months left. Still, the date of the election is yet to be set.
Moreover, both President Thein Sein and Defence Services Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing have not promised to hand over the State power to whomever the winner of the election.
The SLORC did not keep its promise in 1990 and the country ended up a failed state.
There is much evidence to support the words and pledges of the junta leaders back in 1990.
The military mounted a coup on September 18, 1988, and established the SLORC under the leadership of Gen. Saw Maung.
Lt-Gen. Than Shwe took the second leading role, [at the time of the coup] Brigadier-General Khin Nyunt and Colonel Tin Oo received the secretary positions.
Maj-Gen. Maung Maung Khin, Maj-Gen. Tin Htun, Brig-Gen. Aung Ye Kyaw, Maj-Gen. Phone Myint, Maj-Gen. Sein Aung, Maj-Gen. Chit Swe, Brig-Gen. Kyaw Ba, Col. Maung Thint, Brig-Gen. Maung Aye, Brig-Gen. Nyan Lin, Brig-Gen. Myint Aung, Brig-Gen. Mya Thin, Brig-Gen. Htun Kyi, Brig-Gen. Aye Thoung, and Brig-Gen. Myo Nyunt were members of the SLORC.
The first statement (1/88) regarding the coup stressed the holding of the general election successfully. It also urged political parties to prepare for election.
During a press conference held at the Defence Ministry the day after the coup, Gen. Saw Maung said they did not crave for power. On September 23, Gen. Saw Maung said in the SLORC's first letter to the State that the general election would be held as soon as possible.
"We are soldiers. Our organisation is composed of soldiers. As the benevolence of the State also exerts on us, we will never break our promise given to the people and the State, and we want everyone to believe that," said Gen. Saw Maung.
He continued: "We assure that we will carry out our primary duties, the national defence and security and rule of law, after handing the State power over to the government elected freely and fairly by the people according to their democratic rights.”
Gen. Saw Maung gave similar speeches repeatedly throughout 1989. The SLORC-run Working People’s Daily had featured such words in its editorials and articles.
They said only to hand the power to the government brought by the election, not the one that ascended in accord with the new constitution.
They used the constitution as an excuse only after the election.
Drafting a new constitution was not an issue the government raised before the election, even if the then junta leader, Gen. Saw Maung, on a couple of occasions had mentioned the need for a new charter.
At a meeting at the office of the Commander-in-Chief [Army] on January 9, 1989, Gen. Saw Maung said: "We have spoken about the matter of State power. As soon as the election is held, form a government according to law and then take power. An election has to be held to bring forth a government. That is our responsibility. But the actual work of forming a legal government after the election is not the duty of the Tatmadaw. We are saying it very clearly and candidly right now."
Maj-Gen Khin Nyunt said before a foreign military attaché, on September 22, 1988, "Elections will be held as soon as law and order has been restored and the Defence Services would then systematically hand over power to the winning party."
This is quoted from the British Broadcasting Corporation's record SWB, FE/0265 i, September 24, 1988.
Statements of Gen. Saw Maung and Maj-Gen. Khin Nyunt contained no words about the constitution, and their promises were broken when the NLD scored a landslide victory in the election.
The SLORC leaders said that the 1990 general election was for drafting a new constitution and that they would hand over the power only after the constitution was ratified. They broke their promise by manipulating the words.
According to the Section 3, Chapter 2 of the election of Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) law imposed on May 31, 1989, the parliament shall be organised with the representatives elected in accord with the law.
It was the adequate regulation to form the parliament after the election but the SLORC did not let it happen.
Therefore, the elected NLD representatives released the Gandhi Hall Declaration, dated July 28-29, 1990, and called for the formation of the parliament.
Maj-Gen. Khin Nyunt, the secretary of the SLORC, responded that with the statement 1/90.
The statement 1/90, signed by Maj-Gen. Khin Nyunt, clearly ruled out the transfer of State's power.
It stated that the representatives elected by the people were responsible only for drafting a new charter and that they did not allow the formation of the government by drafting a provisional constitution to gain the State power.
The SLORC continued to hold the power until the government was organised according to the new charter, the statement said.
The NLD knew the importance of the constitution and had drafted one. But the SLORC did not accept it.
Further, Gen. Saw Maung himself did not make an issue out of the charter. He just tended to bring the election before the charter.
In a speech on May 10 – two weeks prior to the election – he stated: “A dignitary who once was an Attorney-General talked about the importance of the constitution. As our current aim is to hold the election as scheduled we cannot as yet concern ourselves with the constitution as mentioned by that person. Furthermore, it is not our concern. A new constitution can be drafted or an old one can also be used after some amendments.”
“That person” was former Attorney-General Hla Aung, who was close to the NLD and, at the time, researching constitutional issues for pro-democracy movement.
Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist emphasising on Myanmar affairs, met him in Yangon, in May 1989, and Hla Aung said that the military seemed reluctant to discuss the constitution.
Bertil Lintner himself had written in a paper which he submitted at the conference in Korea in December 1994: "Drafting a new constitution was not an issue (before the election). On the contrary, Gen. Saw Maung lashed out against the pro-democracy movement, the National League for Democracy, for raising the issue of a constitution before the election, which was held eventually on May 27, 1990."
It is clear that the SLORC government (or the military) broke its promise in the 1990 election.
This fact can be seen if we draw a comparison between what they said before May 27, 1990 and what they did after the May election.
They could not give a strong reason at that time. They broke promise with intent to keep holding power. Blame could not be put on politicians, including the NLD party.
Besides their unwillingness to hand over power, they also bore a grudge against the opposition. The SLORC government then started arresting the elected parliamentarians after issuing the 1/90 notification.
In late 1990, at least 65 elected MPs were arrested and about 12 others had to flee to Thailand and India. The arrests and oppressions had already existed since before the election, but the situation became worse after the election.
When it comes to talking about their antagonism, there is one example. The July 13, 1990 issue of AsiaWeek magazine covered an interview between Dominic Faulder and Kyi Maung, vice-chairman of NLD. Dominic Faulder asked him if NLD had any plan to prosecute the military leaders after it had formed a government.
Kyi Maung replied there was no such a plan like a ‘Nuremberg-style’ trial. But when Faulder asked a further question, he said people such as Khin Nyunt might reasonably felt themselves pretty insecure.
His remarks caused outrage for Major General Khin Nyunt, who responded at the 100th news conference held at the Ministry of Defence on July 13, 1990.
“I would like to ask (U) Kyi Maung what attitude he had towards me in answering in such a manner,” said Khin Nyunt.
The SLORC leaders misinterpreted Kyi Maung’s remarks, thinking that they would be brought to trial like Nuremberg. Khin Nyunt spread his propaganda within the military. That issue also appeared in the publications he made but they carry different contents. Their idea is that military leaders would face court martial if NLD comes to power.
Kyi Maung was arrested September 6, 1990, on charges of inciting or attempting to harm national security and order.
Abovementioned facts prove who bears more grudge.
In the book on his autobiography published in March this year (2015), Khin Nyunt did not separately mention the 1990 election. The book did not carry things either that defended their broken promise.
But in the 1990s, Khin Nyunt repeated in a series of press conferences that they did not break their promise
There were some people and organisations that defended the SLORC government. They were both from home and abroad. They have now come to resurface in disguise. Their propaganda is what the SLORC government had done is right.
Among them is Network Myanmar founder Derek Tonkin. He served as British ambassador to Thailand. Currently, he is adviser to Bagan Capital Ltd.
He always writes about misconceptions about Myanmar’s affairs. His remarks posted on his website regarding the 1990 election were also disoriented.
The elections held on 27 May 1990 were not to a governing parliament, but to a Constituent Assembly. Though no specific legislation was ever issued defining the purpose of the elections, speeches made and press statements released in the months prior to the elections, following the publication of the Election Law on 31 May 1989, left no doubt that it was not the military government's intention to transfer political power to civilian hands immediately after the elections.
Foreign correspondents covering the elections fully understood that the elections were only the first stage in the constitutional process set out by the SLORC, he said.
His opinion is wrong if we have a study of the records of the then government’s press releases. They might have talked about the constitution before the election but they had a trump card. Only when the NLD won the election, did they talk about the matter of drafting a constitution.
It is clear Derek Tonkin’s aim implied that the then government was right. His stances are the same as those of Robert Taylor and Morten Pedersen, both of whom are supporters of the military government.
Derek Tonkin living in Thailand is said to be a cunning opportunist. He always talks about misconceptions about Myanmar affairs. He did not mend his mistakes despite criticisms leveled at him. He is somewhat influential as he is the former British ambassador to Thailand. He also served in Cambodia as a diplomat. When he retired, he established an economic consultancy. He gave advice to foreigners who wanted to invest in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. But now, his focus is on Myanmar’s affairs. His Bagan Capital Ltd gives advice those investing in Myanmar. According to his website, Dr. Thant Thaw Kaung, a Myanmar citizen belongs to his consultancy.
The website of Network Myanmar sometimes referred to Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing’s papers. The aim is likely to support Derek Tonkin’s misconceptions about Myanmar’s affairs. His remarks on the 1990 elections were referred to Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing’s paper in 2008. The paper entitled “The State of the Pro-democracy Movement in Authoritarian Myanmar/Burma.
Kyaw Yin Hlaing is an adviser of President Thein Sein. He is also from Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), government’s peace negotiator.
He became popular together with Dr Nay Win Maung from Myanmar Egress before 2010. He was also a trainer there. When Nay Win Maung died, he became an important person at MPC. He is an educated person from the Third Group.
The greater advantage Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing has is that he is on friendly terms with international experts. His opinions are sometimes the matter of discussion among them. When he returned to Myanmar, he was thought to have close ties with Myanmar authorities. His ideas are not much different from those of the Third Group. One idea they have is that Myanmar can go ahead with its political process without Aung San Suu Kyi.
A politician quoted Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing as saying “If the military gives you democracy without Daw Su (Aung San Suu Kyi), won’t you accept it?”
Kyaw Yin Hlaing’s paper that was referred by Derek Tonkin highlighted NLD’s weaknesses. He commented that the NLD could not operate well without Aung San Suu Kyi. The misconceptions Derek Tonkin has made are also found in his paper.
Kyaw Yin Hlaing was born in Mandalay in 1968. He obtained an MA degree from Mandalay University in 1992. There was no evidence about which role he took in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
In 1997, he received an MA (government) from Cornell University in the United States. He obtained a doctoral degree from the same university in 2001. From 2001 to 2007, he served as associate professor at the political department of NUS in Singapore. In 2007, he became associate professor of the Asian and International Study Department of Hong Kong City University.
Later on, he worked for Myanmar Egress and Network Activities as positions of founder or director.
With the advent of Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), he became an important person and an adviser to President Thein Sein. During the president’s visits to the US in his earlier presidency, Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing accompanied him as an interpreter.
There is no doubt that the president used Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing in the relations with international political experts and Dr. Zaw Oo in the economic arena.
Meanwhile, there are connections between Kyaw Yin Hlaing and his MPC and international experts and organisations working in support of the military dictatorship.
MPC may not use Network Myanmar founder Derek Tonkin. But there are close ties between Robert Taylor and Kyaw Yin Hlaing. Robert Taylor himself is involved in MPC.
If we watch those people and organisations that have connections with MPC, we can know what motive they have.
MPC is a major player working in connection with international experts so that Myanmar’s government could save face in the international community. Among MPC members, Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing and Dr Thant Myint Oo are important actors. Like Network Myanmar, international organisations having close relations with them show their stances contrary to the situation in Myanmar.
Richard Horsey, a former representative from the International Labour Organisation, is a senior member from MPC. He is also working for the International Crisis Group (ICG).
On April 28 this year, ICG published a report about Myanmar’s general election in 2015. The report is titled “Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape”. The report is controversial and the comments are identical to those made by MPC officials.
Some assume that Richard Horsey’s comments reflect MPC’s stances because he belongs to both MPC and ICG.
Like ICG, other organisations also issued reports contrary to the real situation in Myanmar. They are IRI, Asia Foundation, East-West Center and USAID. Some of their opinions are the same as that of Network Myanmar.
It is difficult to imagine how MPC members and the president’s advisers belonging to MPC act behind the scenes. But they themselves will know the best.
Looking at the reports coming from more than 25 organisations such as ICG, IMS, DFID, EU and the World Bank, they are found to have lacked transparency and swayed to the government.
Surely, there are those who will give support even if Myanmar’s politics is on a wrong track. Some in the form of organisations are working covertly or overtly. Among those are non-citizens and citizens living abroad and so-called experts. Particularly, they are all connected to the Third Group.
It is clear about the 1990 elections after which the military regime (SLORC) broke its promise.
For those who helped legitimise the SLORC government, they must understand that the people were blindly deceived in the 1990 elections. This cannot be hidden. The votes of the people were not recognised. They were stolen and destroyed. It has been 25 years since then.
A similar act to hide the situation of 1990 should not be committed in 2015. The Third Group that is willing to revive the legitimacy of the military government and the importance of the military must understand that history cannot be erased.
Breaking promise to hand over power after the 1990 election is no more in 2015. It is necessary to gently hand over power to those who win the 2015 general election.
The ruling semi-civilian government must try its best in order that this year could not be overshadowed by the situation of 1990.