After four-and-a-half decades under military rule, the people of Burma are constantly looking for signs that the country may be ready for a return to democracy.
On Thursday, in a ceremony to mark Armed Forces Day, the Burmese dictator in chief, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, announced that the military would be ready to hand over power to a civilian government after elections in 2010.
This should have been welcome news to Burma’s long-suffering citizens. Unfortunately, after 20 years in power, few were willing to give the aging general the benefit of the doubt about his true intentions. Upon hearing his words, most Burmese simply shrugged and said they’ve hear it all before.
There are not many people left in Burma today who have much faith in the army that has ruled the country with an iron fist for more than a generation. When the army seized control in 1962, some were prepared to believe that it had the country’s interests at heart. Now, it seems, the so-called national army is working solely for those who control it.
When the generals came under fire from the international community for cracking down on monk-led protests last year, Than Shwe thought he could get his critics off his back by promising to meet with detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. True to form, he never kept his word.
At this stage, Than Shwe seems to feel that he no longer needs to make such empty promises. In early March, Than Shwe sent a message through his protÃ©gÃ©, Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, that he had rejected a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling for changes to the new draft constitution to â€œensure inclusiveness.â€
All official avenues for a national reconciliation process have thus come to a dead end, resulting in the failure of mediation efforts by the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. Once again, the dream of positive changes in Burma has been crushed by the grim reality of Than Shwe’s rule.
Burmese people understand the historical fact that Burma’s modern army was formed by independence leader Gen Aung San and his comrades, who fought for the freedom and dignity of their country.
Armed Forces Day-formerly known as Resistance Day-has turned into an occasion to subvert this legacy in the service of Than Shwe’s military-backed quasi-monarchy.
Than Shwe has deprived a proud moment in Burma’s past of its meaning and now he is offering a vision of the country’s future that is equally false.
It is up to the new generation of officers in the armed forces to recognize the suffering and pain of their country and to correct the mistakes of the likes of Than Shwe and his despotic predecessors.
If not, Burma’s prospects will be as worthless as Than Shwe’s words.