Politics and government
The current constitution of Burma, which replaced the original 1946 Constitution in 1979, is modeled after the Constitution of the Soviet Union. It enshrined the role of Communist Party of Burma in all organs of government, politics and society as the "vanguard party of the national revolution". The political system is decentralized, and state and regional leaders have a significant amount of autonomy. Although the state remains officially committed to socialism as its defining creed, its economic policies have grown increasingly capitalist
The National Assembly of Burma (နိုင်ငံတော်၏လွှတ်တော် Nainngandawe Hluttaw) is bicameral and made up of two houses: the upper house Assembly of Nationalities (လူမျိုးစုလွှတ်တော် Lumyozu Hluttaw) and the lower house Assembly of Representatives (ကိုယ်စားလှယ်လွှတ်တော်း Koyzale Hluttaw). The National Assembly is indirectly elected by the local State and Regional Assemblies every four years. Only political organizations affiliated with or endorsed by the Communist Party are permitted to contest elections in Burma. The Presidium (အလုပ်အမှုဆောင်အဖွဲ့ Alôk-ahmuzaung-ahpwè) of the National Assembly exercises the legislative powers when the National Assembly in recess.
The members of Presidium act as collective heads of state of the Democratic Republic of Burma. It has powers to ratify or annul treaties with other countries, to appoint or recall the ambassadors to foreign nations and receive letters of credentials or recall of foreign diplomatic representatives. The Chairman of Presidium, commonly referred as the State Chairman (ဥက္ကဋ္ Ukkath), is primus inter pares among other members of the Presidium and thus makes the post as de facto head of state of the country. The 1979 Constitution previously established the office of President (သမ္မတ Sammada) and the only person ever occupied it was Thakin Than Tun. When Tun died in 1988, the office was abolished and Tun was declared as the "Eternal President".
The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Burma is the head of central government of the Democratic Republic of Burma that presiding over a council of ministers and also as the nominal commander-in-chief of Pyetat (ဗမာပြည်သူ့တပ်မတော် Bama Pyishu Tapmadaw, "People's Army of Burma"). It is referred as the Premier of the Government (အစိုးရအဖွဲ့သဘာပတိ Azoya-ahpwè Sabapadi), or simply the Premier (သဘာပတိ Sabapadi). The Chairman and other members of the Council of Ministers are elected by the National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Burma for a four-year term.
British Burma (1824–1943)
Burma was colonized by the British following three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824–1885). Burma was declared a province of India in November 1885 with its capital at Rangoon. British rule brought social, economic, cultural and administrative changes. Traditional Burmese society was drastically altered by the demise of the monarchy and the separation of religion and state. The economic nature of society also changed dramatically. After the opening of the Suez Canal, the demand for Burmese rice grew and vast tracts of land were opened up for cultivation.
While the Burmese economy grew, all the power and wealth remained in the hands of the British and migrants from India. General resentment of the Burmese both toward the British and the Indian migrants resulted to the emergence of Burmese nationalist movement by early 20th century. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement. In 1930, young Burmese intellectuals formed the Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association). Its members used the Burmese word Thakin ("master") as their honorific title, proclaiming that the Bamars were the true masters of the country.
In 1937, Burma was separated from British India and became a British colony of its own. A nationalist, Ba Maw, became the first Chief of Minister of Burma between 1937 and 1940. In 1939, Ba Maw formed the Freedom Bloc along with U Aung San, Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe from the Communist Party of Burma as well as U Kyaw Nyein and Thakin Nu from the People's Revolutionary Party. After voicing his opposition to the British war participation, Ba Maw resigned and was arrested along with other Freedom Bloc leaders for sedition in 1940. However, Aung San, who attended the Indian National Congress Assembly in India, escaped and fled to China.
World War II (1943–45)In China, Aung San asked for assistance from the Kuomintang government. With the help of Blue Shirts Society, the Kuomintang's secret intelligence paramilitary branch, Aung San founded the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 26, 1941. On May 7, 1942, the Chinese army invaded Burma from Yunnan to secure the supply line from the Indian Ocean. The Chinese, helped by the Thai forces from southwest and the BIA led by Aung San, were able to drive the British out of Burma and temporarily retreat to Bengal, British India (now East Pakistan) in January 1943.
Ba Maw was named the Premier as well as the interim head of state (အဓိပတိ Adipadi) of quasi-independent Burma, with Aung San as the Deputy Premier and the Minister of Defense by February 1943. However, the nationalists soon disillusioned with China's capability in defending Burma. Both Ba Maw and Aung San secretly negotiated with Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe of the Communist Party of Burma in forming an underground resistance against the Chinese. As the plan was uncovered, Aung San was arrested by the Chinese, while Ba Maw was spared to continue running the government. Aung San died in prison on December 11, 1944.
With Aung San's arrest and death, the Independence Army became lacking in leadership and was partially out of Ba Maw's government control. Thakin Than Tun and the Communists then reorganized some deserted BIA personnel into a guerrilla force and renamed it the Burma Liberation Front (ဗမာပြည်လွတ်မြောက်ရေးတပ်ပေါင်းစု Bama-pye Lutmyaukye Tappaungzu) or simply known as the Lutmyauk (လွတ်မြောက် Lutmyauk Bama, "Liberated Burma"). There were informal contacts between the Lutmyauk and the Allies in 1944 and 1945. .
Burmese War of Independence (1945–50)As the British troops started to re-enter Burma and drove the Chinese back to the north, on May 25, 1945, the Lutmyauk rose up in a country-wide rebellion, which dubbed as the "May Revolution". On August 30, 1945, the Lutmyauk provisional government was declared in Yangoon. Thakin Than Tun became its head of government. During this period, power struggle soon ensued within the Lutmyauk between the Communists and the Socialists. The resentment against the CPB's leading nature brought Ba Swe and U Kyaw Nyein to break away from the Lutmyauk and founded the Socialist Party of Burma (SPB) in May 1946.
By 1946, the CPB became the active driving force of the Lutmyauk. However, the CPB itself was divided between the hardliners, led by Thakin Soe, and the moderates, led by Thein Pe Myint. Soe advocated armed struggle against the British, while Myint sought a diplomatic approach. When the British offered the dominion status to Burma and invited Than Tun to lead the Executive Council, the Lutmyauk refused and sought instead for complete independence. Ba Maw and the SPB, on other hand, accepted the invitation immediately, which condemned by the CPB as "treasonous".
Negotiations between the British and the Lutmyauk proved a failure by late 1946; Soe's faction prevailed and led the Lutmyauk to adopt more radical line. On November 19, 1946, the Democratic Republic of Burma was declared by the Lyutmauk in Mandalay; Thakin Than Tun became its first President and Premier. Armed conflicts soon broke out between the Lutmyauk and the British. Due to the Lutmyauk's anti-feudalism and anti-ethnic nationalism, the ethnic minorities such as the Shans, the Kachins and the Karens sided with the British and formed their own militias to defend their position.Under the guidance of Thakin Than Tun and supervisions of Defense Minister Bo Let Ya and Chief of Staff Bo Kyaw Zaw, the Burmese People's Army (Pyetat) was organized. Unlike the wartime BIA, the Pyetat was a highly-disciplined and efficient military force. Through southwestern China, which occupied by the Soviet Army until 1949, the Pyetat was directly supplied of firearms and artilleries by the Soviet Union. Soviet assistance proved critical for the Lutmyauk to defend its position in the north. Later it became the main factor for the British to allow Japan for expanding its influence to all-over China.
After the Soviet Army retreated from China in 1949, the direct supply line for the Lutmyauk from the Soviet Union was cut off. The fighting became stalemated by August 1949. The British tried to escape themselves from the costly colonial wars and invited the DRB for another round of negotiation in September 1949. Clement Attlee's government arranged a three-way meeting between the Lutmyauk, the British government and non-Bamar minorities in London between October 28 and December 13, 1949. Subsequently, the British recognized the Lutmyauk's government on December 29, 1949 and, in return, the Lutmyauk would accommodated the ethnic minorities in genuine autonomy.
Parliamentary Democracy era (1950–62)
In accordance with the London Agreement, the representatives of DRB and the ethnic minorities met in Myitkyina on January 18, 1950, which known as the Myitkyina Conference and laid a foundation of federal arrangement to the ethnic minorities. In 1950, the CPB dissolved itself and most of its members joined the Marxism Research Club (မာတ်စ်ဝါဒလေ့လာရေးကလပ် Maks-wada Lelaye Galat). Leading CPB members were instead active individually through the newly-founded League for People’s Democracy (ပြည်သူ့ဒီမိုကရေစီအဖွဲ့ချုပ် Pyeshu Demogayezi Ahpwechok, “LPD”). The left-wing members of Socialist Party of Burma also joined the LPD as individual members.
In 1951, the Constitution of 1946 was replaced by a new constitution which established Burma as a federal republic with parliamentary democracy. Thakin Than Tun was re-elected as President in 1951, 1956 and 1961 by the Union Parliament, consisted of Senate and House of Representatives. Nevertheless, between 1950 to 1962, the LPD dominated the political scene of Burma and won all parliamentary elections. Political oppositions to the LPD were surpressed and several opposition figures like Thakin Nu and Ba Shwe were arrested in the ground of seditious acts against the state.
Parliamentary democracy, however, resulted to social instability and political corruption. Both the government and opposition parties disliked and sought to abolish it. Than Tun personally spoke out against the parliamentary system. The military elements affiliated with the opposition SPB also severely hated it, although several SPB leaders supported parliamentarianism such as Thakin Nu. Burma also experienced major rebellions from the Shans in 1953, the Karens in 1955 and the Rakhines in 1956. Short-lived stability was achieved under the government of Win Maung (1956-1959).
Following the transfer of sovereignty, the Pyetat and the British Burma Army were merged into the Burma Armed Forces, resulting to the friction between left-wing and right-wing elements within the military. The right-wing element of the Army was led by anti-communist General Ne Win who was associated with the Socialists, while the left wing was led by General Bo Let Ya. The right-wing opposed the political influence of the LPD in the military, who imposed by Let Ya and Bo Kyaw Zaw, and became more pro-West by the end of 1950s. In 1959, the SPB was banned by President Than Tun in charge of supporting “counter-revolutionary” activities. The ban prompted the pro-SPB army element to plan a coup against the LPD government.
Coup d'etat and Burmese Civil War (1962–64)
In March 1962, Ne Win launched a coup against the government and announced the creation of National Unity Council (အမျိုးသားစည်းလုံးညီညွတ်ရေးကောင်စီ Amyotha Silônnyinyutye Kaungzi) with himself as its head. To counter the coup, Bo Let Ya quickly mobilized forces loyal to the government to suppress the coup. On March 17, 1962, the National Revolutionary Council (အမျိုးသားတော်လှန်ရေးကောင်စီ Amyotha Tawhlanye Kaungzi) with Bo Let Ya as its head. The Burmese Civil War erupted as a consequence, involving the Burmese government and Ne Win’s forces. It served as a proxy war between the United States, which declared its support to the rebels, and the Soviet Union, which recognized the National Revolutionary Council as a legitimate authority of DRB.
As the war polarized the country, a unity government led by Thakin Nu as prime minister was proposed, but was refused by both sides who wanted to annihilate the parliamentary democracy at all. The final nail in the coffin to the parliamentary democracy was delivered when the leading members of PDL decided to abandon the facade of democratic organization at all and simply re-established the Communist Party of Burma. The new Politburo was announced, consisted of Thakin Than Tun, Bo Let Ya, Thakin Soe, Thakin Zin, Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Bo Kyaw Zaw, Thein Pe Myeint, Thakin Chit Maung, H.N. Goshal, Amar Nag, Bo Zeya and Thakin Lwin.
By 1964, the rebels were defeated and Ne Win fled to the United Kingdom through India. Following the victory of left-wing forces, Thakin Than Tun declared Burma has completed its socialist development and socialism has prevailed over "neo-colonial bourgeoisie democracy". On March 15, 1964, the Communist Party declared “Socialism with Burmese characteristics” (ဗမာစတိုင်ဆိုရှယ်လစ်စံနစ် Bama-zathaing Sozhèlit-sannit, literally "Burmese-style Socialism") as the official ideology of DRB that seek to transform Burma into a socialist state. The 1951 Constitution was suspended and the 1946 Constitution was restored. Parliamentary democracy was abolished and all political parties which supported the coup were banned.
Socialism with Burmese characteristics (1964–88)
The CPB’s consolidation of power involved mass executions of several political enemies and “enemies of the people." Local ethnic rulers were arrested and most of them were subjected to "political re-education." Land reforms were implemented which cost of many landowners' lives. Nationalization of foreign enterprises affected the Burmese Indians and the Burmese Chinese, both of whom had been influential in the economic sector as entrepreneurs and industrialists. The army was also subjected to a massive purge; any military officer whose connected with the participants of 1962 coup was arrested.
While Thakin Than Tun remained President, the real power now vested on Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Bo Let Ya and H.N. Goshal. Following the death of moderate Pe Myint in 1978, Thakin Ba Thein Tin, whose became the Premier in 1977, exercised real powers over the country, although he was mostly active behind the scene and rarely seen in the public. Tin stayed on Marxist orthodoxy over the economic policies such as nationalization and collectivization. In 1979, a new constitution was introduced with a significantly powerless presidency.
Tin's Socialism with Burmese characteristics, however, was opposed by other Party leaders who feared an economic deterioration. Early formulations of Socialism with Burmese characteristics proved disastrous by 1970s; poverty and isolationism severely hampered Burma. By 1980s, Thakin Ba Thein Tin gradually lost his influence over the policy-making of the CPB Politburo and his political ideology was partially sidelined. A reformist faction led by Bo Kyaw Zaw emerged by 1985 who calling for an economic reform for Burma.
New Road to Socialism (1988–94)
Bo Kyaw Zaw became the Premier of Burma on August 22, 1986. During his speech before the National Assembly of Burma on December 15, 1986, Kyaw Zaw openly denounced Socialism with Burmese characteristics as a "grave mistake" and "miscalculated economic policy". He instead formulated a plan for social and economic reforms which called "New Road to Socialism" (ဆိုရှယ်လစ်စံနစ်ဆီသို့နည်းလမ်းသစ် Sozhèlit-sannit sitho Neelan-thit) based on economic pragmatism and relaxed social policies. Kyaw Zaw re-opened Burma to foreign trades and investments by 1988; the Burmese government soon invited Japan and China to invest on Burma in the early 1990s.
On March 24, 1988, Thakin Than Tun died after succumbed into a coma following several attacks of stroke; Bo Let Ya was named as his successor. With the death of Than Tun, the office of President of Burma was formally abolished. Thakin Than Tun himself is enshrined within the Constitution of Burma as the "Eternal President" (ထာဝရသမ္မတ Htawaya Sammada). Following the Soviet model, the duties and responsibilities as the head of state were collectively assumed by the Presidium of the National Assembly of Burma. As the Chairman of the Presidium, Thakin Tin Mya became de facto head of state of Burma from 1988 to 1998.