Myanmar in the 1990’s

During the 1990s, the military regime firmly retained power, nullifying the success of the League for Democracy in the May 1990 elections. The formation of a national convention, appointed by the generals, did not start the process of transition to democracy, and the existence of the opposition was constantly threatened by the government’s repressive policy. Myanmar The continued also to suffer from an internecine war situation between the government armed forces (strong 400. 000 men) and the militias of the different ethnic minorities aspiring to autonomy, a conflict whose solution was not independent of the control of opium production (particularly widespread in Shan state).

The political elections of May 1990 had been won by the opposition forces, gathered in the National League for Democracy (NLD), which obtained 392 seats against 91 of the governmental National Unity Party (NUP). former Party of the Burmese Socialist Program). In the face of defeat, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, SLORC), chaired by General Saw Maung, prevented the convocation of the Constituent Assembly which should have formed a civil government, and reaffirmed its character of effective government until the approval of a new Constitution by all the ethnic groups present in B . (whose name, since 18 June 1989, had been changed to Union of Myanmar). In the following months, the government proceeded to arrest major opposition leaders, close universities and impose a curfew. In April 1991 the SLORC obtained a reshuffle of the leaders of the NLD, from which the president Tin Oo and the secretary general Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi were ousted (see in this Appendix), already under house arrest since 1989, and replaced with pro-regime elements. The Nobel Peace Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi, in October 1991, provoked the mobilization of international public opinion and increased the isolation of Myanmar which, to counterbalance the suspension of aid by Western countries, intensified relations with the People’s Republic of China and with the countries belonging to ASEAN.

In April 1992 the Council announced the resignation of Saw Maung and appointed General Than Shwe as successor, who seemed to initiate a policy of cautious openness towards the opposition: in fact, he convened a National Convention with the task of drafting a new Constitution and granted the amnesty to more than 500 political prisoners. The Convention, however, which was inaugurated in January 1993, consisted of 80 % of delegates appointed by the SLORC, while only 20 % (which subsequently dropped to 10 %) was attributed to opposition deputies elected in 1990.. During the work of the Convention, which proceeded with numerous suspensions, the representatives of the oppositions contested, without having any effect, the intention to define in the constitutional text the central role of the army as ‘permanent representative of the people’, and to include elements military both in the bicameral parliament and in local administrative institutions. From November 1995, therefore, the NLD withdrew from the Convention considering it undemocratic, while the lifting of house arrest in Aung San Suu Kyi (July 1995) led to only a tenuous resumption of the party’s activities, again decimated by the arrests that took place in the first half of 1996.

The regime’s organization of consensus revolved around three guidelines: the establishment of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), support for traditional Buddhist monasticism, and greater attention to inter-ethnic relations in the institutional setting. The Union was formed in September 1993 as a mass movement to replace the NUP (which collapsed with the 1990 elections), in order to align the student and white-collar population on the positions expressed by the SLORC, of ​​which it was in effect an emanation.. In connection with monastic orders, having outlawed those in 1990 had supported the League for Democracy, the military junta tried to gain the favor of the Buddhist hierarchies (as well as the reputation of defender of the faith), through a policy of funding aimed at the restoration and construction of religious buildings, and social assistance of monks (who were more than 1 % of the population). Finally, the government, through the National Convention, undertook to recognize the administrative autonomy of six ‘national zones’ populated by ethnic minorities, while denying similar recognition to other minority groups.

A multi-ethnic country that has always had little cohesion, the Myanmar also continued in the nineties to be the scene of bloody clashes between the regular army and the rebel militias to the authority of Rangoon, located mainly along the border with Thailand, in the Shan states, Karen and Kachin. Between 1993 and 1994, the SLORC concluded separate ceasefires with some armed groups of Kachin, Kayinni and Shan, while hostilities continued with the Karen National Union which resulted in, between 1996 and 1997, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Thailand. The junta conducted numerous offensives against the army of Khun Sa’a, Myanmar’s largest opium producer, who in May 1994had proclaimed the birth of an independent Shan state: between 1995 and 1996 the government forces managed to occupy the Shan almost entirely, without resulting in a real reduction in the cultivation of opium poppies and heroin refineries.

In foreign policy, the military regime achieved notable success with Myanmar’s entry into ASEAN in July 1997, which involved the integration of the country into the regional economy of Southeast Asia, as well as legitimizing the regime itself. Conversely, exchanges with Western countries further decreased, which maintained an attitude of condemnation towards the continuous violations of human rights, the use of forced labor and the permissive policy towards drug trafficking by the military junta. The dissolution of the latter, in November 1997, did not seem to be a prelude to changes of address. The new governing body, in fact, called the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC), did not abolish martial law or restore the democratic institutions provided for by the 1974 Constitution, and continued to be a military junta made up of younger officers, but always headed by General Than Shwe. The attitude towards the opposition also remained unchanged and continued to be subjected to indiscriminate arrests. In particular, the repression raged against members of the NLD (Aung San Suu Ky although formally free, was repeatedly subject to severe restrictions on personal freedoms) and against members of the student movement, who had intensified protests during 1998.

Myanmar in the 1990's