Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions for the NLD

Op-ed, Irrawaddy Online, January 2, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions for the NLD


Over the past 20 years, the opposition parties in Burma have shown an unyielding faith in the power of principles. Now it is time for them to learn the principles of power.

The Burmese military junta is at its happiest when history repeats itself. Under the leadership of Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the regime replays its old maneuvers—content that its strategy has for so long been unbreakable.
A recognizable play in the regime's game plan has long been the tactic of combining brute force and naked aggression through harsh crackdowns with political offensives aimed at weakening the opposition and defusing international pressure.
But if the regime’s policymakers are so predictable, surely the question is what the opposition will do to counter their plans and achieve the two most important results for political transition— constitutional reform and the release of political prisoners.
Take, for starters, the case of the 2,100 political prisoners languishing in Burma’s jails—234 of whom were arrested during or after the nationwide protests in September 2007 and have received sentences of up to 68 years imprisonment each since November 2008.
The goal of the harsh sentencing is clear—to eliminate potential opposition in the run-up to the 2010 election, which is the fifth step in the regime's master-plan known as the “Seven-Step Roadmap to Democracy.”
The intended effect of the brutality is a "shock and awe" campaign—terrorizing the public and creating an environment of fear ahead of the election. The junta hopes the Burmese population will become depoliticized and will meekly allow the military to steal the election.
International outcry has pronounced loud again. Sources in United Nations said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is even considering the option for "temporary suspension of his good offices mission on Burma". Some sources close to Burmese Foreign Ministry confirmed that China and Russia are pressing the generals in Naypyidaw to cooperate with Secretary-General's good office and show a "positive gesture" to calm down mounting international criticism before the scheduled 2010 election in Burma.
As history has its proof, it is now time for Than Shwe to pull out a card and play magic with his international supporters. One possible prospect will be the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and the only imprisoned Noble Peace Prize winner, in near future – as earliest as by May or as latest as November 2009 – which in itself presents what the junta considers to be several favorable conditions.
First, the junta knows that releasing Suu Kyi could be well enough to relieve the concerns of China, Russia, Asean and other apologists for the junta that have found it hard recently to defend the Burmese regime in the international arena.
If the military rulers were sublimely tactful, they could even invite either UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari or Secretary-General, and allow the Good Offices to take credit for Suu Kyi’s release.
In this manner, the junta could use the release of Suu Kyi to fend off international criticism against the systematic crackdowns, forcibly ratified constitution and scheduled election for 2010.
In fact, the military generals believe they can afford to release the opposition leader without compromising with her. Indeed, in accepting her freedom Suu Kyi could find herself in a Catch-22 situation where she cannot criticize the government without finding herself back in a cage.
No political transition is likely to take place within the framework of the current constitution. Even amendments made to the constitution in the hope of gradual reform will not be possible within a military-dominated parliament and the junta’s foreseeable power arrangement in a post-2010 Burma.
The question, therefore, is what the opposition can do to counter military's strategy and achieve two most important results needed for political transition—constitutional reform and the release of political prisoners.
Over the past 20 years, the opposition parties in Burma have shown an unyielding faith in the power of principles. Now it is time for them to learn the principles of power.
Paradoxically, the first principle of power that the opposition should pursue is a moral strategy.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) and other opposition parties should declare that they will not take part in the 2010 elections unless the junta agrees to engage in political dialogue with the opposition to negotiate a constitutional review and to release the political prisoners.
This is not only a righteous strategy that will create a feel-good factor among opposition members, but it can be used as a playing card to achieve three concrete political gains.
First of all, it could motivate the opposition's own bases—NLD organizers throughout the country and its supporters, as well as legitimate ethnic political parties—most of whom have taken back seats in recent political debates due to the NLD's defensive, reactive and passive policy.
NLD Chairman Aung Shwe, who has always avoided public communication, should make himself available to Burmese-language shortwave radio stations abroad to address the public to articulate why the NLD has decided not to take part in the 2010 election and what the NLD demands are.
The party leadership should not take for granted that their cause is self-evident. They must publicize their agenda and promote it with clarity as a moral offensive.
Second, an election boycott could narrow the regime's bases—in particular, the full participation of ethnic minority groups that reached ceasefire deals with the military over the past 20 years.
All ethnic groups know the military's constitution is far below their acceptable thresholds.
Although groups such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) may be planning to take part in the 2010 election through their proxy ethnic parties, they will be afforded the chance NOT to throw their weight behind the regime's terms and conditions, especially it involves the disarmament of their troops.
The opposition’s rejection of the 2010 election will, therefore, lend ceasefire groups political justification and strategic space (as the regime will be busy dealing with the NLD) to resist the regime's disarmament plan.
This will complicate the junta's political ploy or, in a worst case scenario, lead to a resumption of localized arm conflicts between certain ethnic ceasefire groups and the Burmese army. Such a situation would alarm China since the most volatile areas are around the Sino-Burmese border where formidable Wa and Kachin ethnic groups are based.
The third political gain the opposition could muster from a moral boycott strategy is that it will force the international community—particularly those who want to expedite the junta’s "road map"—to side with opposition's reasonable demands.
However, before all that comes into play, the opposition parties must show flexibility and articulate that it is not rejecting outright the regime's road map.
If the junta accepts a constitutional review and the release of political prisoners, the opposition can consider lending legitimacy to the road map. The opposition should also make it clear that it welcomes international humanitarian assistance to Burma, which is severely impoverished and falling into deeper humanitarian crises.
All in all, this is high time for the opposition to occupy the moral high ground and translate it into power and advantage. Of course, the route will not be an easy one as the regime will impose its nastiest crackdown on the opposition.
Some skeptics might also argue that it is nothing new for the Burmese opposition to take up a righteous policy and yet still lose the game.
However, what the opposition has so far adopted is a reflexive and ungainly position. What the opposition needs now to use the moral high ground wisely and publicly, and transform it into strategy, well-timed and coordinated toward achieving well-defined political gains.
This is the first principle of power the opposition should pursue and should constitute its New Year resolution for 2009.

Min Zin, a Burmese journalist in exile, is a teaching fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Journalism.


Father of the Army said...

Hello Ko Min Zin..

Are you Ko Min Zin from RFA, Radio Free Asia? If so, I would like to make contact with you. Please send your email to I'm looking forwarded to your email.

Flavia said...

Hello Min Zin,
I am a student at UCLA putting on a benefit concert to raise awareness about human rights violations in Burma, and we were hoping you would be available to speak at this event. Our website is, please email us at if you are interested.