Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Powerless against The Lady

by May Ng
Tuesday, 09 June 2009 14:31

Signs that the government in Burma is losing its power are everywhere. While the latest collapse of a pagoda recently re-anointed with help from the wives of Army generals may provide a sign of diminishing divine right for the military junta, other important clues come from the reason why a military government armed to the teeth is very afraid of the gentle lady who speaks softly from behind bars as well as barefoot monks who pray peacefully.

Some observers justify military rule in Burma with an assumption that without the Army there will be a power vacuum and chaos will ensue. Aside from the obvious question of whether temporary stability provided by a bloody tyrant is to be preferred over the long term struggle toward a meaningful political reconciliation, the urgent question in Burma is what if the military has already lost its power and legitimacy. What if the Burmese government no longer has the power or capacity to rule without the constant use of violence? Can an Army which clings to power through the barrel of the gun still be considered a legitimate source of power?

The source of legitimacy originates from the people. As the government in Burma has failed to justify its rule in meeting the wishes of the people, the ruling military desperately seeks external sources of legitimacy from sources like the United Nations and ASEAN. The seduction of wealth accrued from Burma too often influences the world to forget lessons learned from the past – for example American support for the Shah of Iran. A belief that through friendly encouragement powerful nations can help the military in Burma liberalize and democratize is not as innocent as it may sound.

Burma is an important reason why ASEAN and the United Nations appear to be weak and irrelevant today. ASEAN often protest that if it dares speak out against the Burmese generals it will push Burma further into the lap of China. At present, ASEAN and the United Nations have not been able to muster enough courage to stand up for principles, preferring to instead cling to the status quo while the Burmese people continue to wait.

Some observers believe that without a decisive military victory against the Burmese generals or intense pressure from international forces, the military will never give up its monopoly on power. But in recent history, few countries have gained democracy from military victories or powerful intervention from abroad despite the many nations that have managed to gain democracy in the last half century.

In addition, few military victors relinquished power after obtaining it in the name of freedom and democracy. And more importantly, historical evidence quashes the myth that only a government with a strong grip on power, even if it relies heavily on violence, is capable of providing stability and development. More recent evidence suggests, on the other hand, that a government formed following a military coup is likely to continually struggle for power and in such an atmosphere peace is only temporary. The use of violence alone to maintain power denotes weakness not strength. A brutal government is a weak government and is dangerous not only to the people in Burma but also to neighboring countries in its potential to cause regional instability.

It is possible that the Burmese military mistakenly believes that the appearance of democracy in the 2010 election is equal to the appearance of legitimacy. But democracy and legitimacy are not the same and should not be confused. True democracy may confer legitimacy but a lack of legitimacy cannot easily be glossed over with a make-believe election.

The use of force is a clear sign of the lack of persuasive power, resulting in ever more coercive measures employed against its own citizens. Ashin U Gambira, the intellectual leader of the Saffron Revolution, is imprisoned under charges of telling the people that the military dictatorship cannot survive without support from the people and outside world. Further, the military is now getting ready to put Aung San Suu Kyi – daughter of the founding father of modern Burma, in notorious Insein Prison following an outrageous accusation that she committed a crime because Army cadres near her home were unable to stop an American man from entering her compound.

Ashin U Gawsita, the frontline Saffron Revolution monk featured with his loudspeaker in the movie ‘Burma VJ’, said that when peaceful people are forced at gunpoint on the street of Rangoon by the government as seen during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, it becomes obvious that the Burmese regime is no longer a legitimate power but a group of terrorists or thugs. Additionally, U Pyinya Zawta, the executive leader of the All Burma Monks Alliance from the Saffron Revolution, said that for every violent force there is an equal force for peace in the universe. He teaches that if all those who believe in peaceful change in Burma -- from inside the country and from other nations -- can act in unison, there will be a strong enough force to end Burma's military oppression.

It is not a question of what China or Russia will do to prolong the military oppression in Burma. It is a question of what the Burmese people and the rest of the world are willing to do to help end the reign of terror in Burma, where the military generals are powerless against The Lady who knows no fear.

(May Ng is a member of Justice for Human Rights in Burma. To view her poems about Burma, please visit: http://www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol33/ng/index.html)

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