Opinion: No change at all on the ground in Burma
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Opinion: No change at all on the ground in Burma

The people of Burma remain unconvinced of political change under the existing President Thein Sein administration that claims to be a reformist establishment. The reason is that the regime just changes its clothes rather than its totalitarian practices. It has disclosed its true nature during another crackdown on the peaceful anti-copper mine protesters; this is since the one in November 2012.

On November 29, 2012, in Monywa, Sagaing Division, riot police brutally ran over six protest camps at the Letpadaung copper mine, arrested an indefinite number of protesters, and injured at least 100, including many with severe burns. During the crackdown, the riot police had used inflammable bombs while they raided the camps where monks slept peacefully in the early hours of a full-moon day.  The regime used riot police equipped with harmful weapons, although there was no situation of riot or disorder.

A similar case occurred on 25 April (Thursday) during a police attack on local villagers who hae been ploughing in their disputed farmland as a sign of protest in the environs of the controversial Latpadaung copper-mine project. At least one person was shot and five individuals arrested, according to media news. Actually, the anti-copper mine protesters were just espousing their citizens’ rights saying the mine had severely damaged their livelihood, environment and cultural heritage.

According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, local villagers and activists have been calling for the shutting down of the Latpadaung Copper Mine, a joint-venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Wanbao, a subsidiary to a Chinese arms manufacturer, which they claim is responsible for the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and has displaced farmers from 66 villages.

People see this police crackdown on villagers as an unchanged dictatorial practice by the so-called civilian government led by President Thein Sein who declares himself a reformist.

The most crucial question of the political reform is also based on the sincerity of the country’s military elite, since they have been exploiting the country’s natural resources through the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).

The country has also been criticised over its incompetent procedures for reform. Although poverty alleviation is one item on the reform agenda, farmers and workers are distressed that their land and property has been unlawfully confiscated by the military, local authorities and their cronies.

Moreover, the ethnic armed struggle over political and economic rights are also closely tied up with the socioeconomic inequality in the country’s ethnic populated regions. Although ceasefires and peace talks have taken place, there are fresh offensives in Kachin and Shan States in recent weeks. The military leaders who ruled the country over five decades monopolize much of the nation’s natural property, and have sold some of this to China at low-prices that has caused citizens to accuse China of expansionism under a disguise of friendship.

The recent anti-Muslim violence is a gambit that actually changes the focus of people’s grievances from the anti-China standpoint. It’s a risky game by the Thein Sein Government to safeguard Chinese projects including a copper-mine venture and a twin oil and gas pipeline from Kyaukpru in the southeastern Arakan State of Burma, across Kachin State, to China’s Yunnan province.

It is difficult to dream of a successful political change in Burma unless the government can achieve societal sufficiency and constant progress in the daily lives of common people. In turn, it is difficult to see successful economic transformation without political reliability that guarantees a departure from the dictatorial past.

It is also essential to adjust the economic inequalities caused by the military cartels and their cronies in the lead up to the general elections in 2015. To seize on the potential benefits during its transformation period, Burma’s quasi-civilian government needs to make up its mind about how to amend the controversial constitution.

Even though it uses the slogan ‘change’, the government was formed with former military generals, who themselves wrote the 2008 Constitution. The biggest flaw in the constitution is the privileged 25 percent of seats in parliament that are reserved for soldiers who are basically appointed to the legislative body by the commander-in-chief.

So far, following five decades of military rule, some of the hardest political stumbling blocks remain, as well as the military elite that still holds decisive power. For instance, the eleven-member National Defense and Security Council, along with the President, has the constitutional right to declare an emergency at any time.

Most importantly, even though the government has repeatedly said it will restore the rule of law, its respective authorities, including the local administrators, judges and police, still abuse their power without restraint. The military and its cronies are still above the law and as a result, corruption and abuse of power is still widespread.