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Commentary: Challenging the bulletocracy

Naing Ko Ko

Apr 28, 2008 (DVB), The Burmese military regime's plans for a constitutional referendum in May and an election in 2010 are merely a model for the continuation of the bulletocracy dominated by military generals for more than a decade.

Arguments for and against the referendum and constitution have been raised on the horizon of Burma's domestic politics, with statements welcoming and rejecting the move from foreign policy elites, particularly from the neighbouring countries of China, Thailand and India and from Western liberal democracies.

The debate has polarized democracy activists, with some calling for a "No" vote and others advocating a boycott of the military-plotted referendum.

Burma’s "Wuthering Heights" elites, branding themselves as a third force, will vote "Yes" in the referendum, some of them buying into the model of a transitional bulletocracy while ignoring the emancipation theory.

This is a time when questions and answers need to be formulated by the movers and shakers of Burma which look beyond the referendum, constitution and upcoming election in 2010.

They must frame a strategic policy for the future rather than succumb to "can’t do" attitudes or focus solely on transformation from above.

It has been said that politics is a struggle for power. One of the key political dilemmas for Burma is who should hold state power?

Will Burma's political power be held by democratically-elected representatives or the military-dominated bulletocracy?

Technically speaking, how will Burma's transition be brought about? Will it be by a regime shift based on development theory, a neo-Gramscian mass movement led by social entrepreneurs, or Leninist-style bottom-up reform of the power structure and armed struggle?

Whatever theories and schools of thought we are debating, the reality of Burma's present politics is that the generals-turned-civilian elites are aiming to control state power for decades to come, instead of transferring it to the legitimate elected representatives.

It is an obvious fact that the regime wants to maintain the status quo with power based firmly on the army and the economy. The opposition needs to challenge and fragment the SPDC’s power structure and domain both domestically and internationally.

There are no comprehensive policy platforms on how to apply a regime change model to Burma after the referendum and election from either the SPDC military generals, the democratic power crusaders, or the multilateral and transnational agencies such as the United Nations Security Council, European Union, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and ASEAN.

Obviously, there is little option for domestic challengers to work against the referendum, beyond casting a "No" vote.

However, transnational activists have a much wider choice of strategies to counterattack the junta’s planned bulletocracy.

Power crusaders must think about approaches beyond the referendum and election to the transitional process. It is not an appropriate time to say "Vote Yes" or call for "dialogue" and "national reconciliation".

On an internal level, it is time to focus on mass mobilization and emancipation theory to bring about regime change in Burma, and on the international fronts, it is strategically essential to undermine the SPDC's political legitimacy and sovereignty.

Even though the regime has formulated this military-dominated constitution to get a "Yes" vote, mass public mobilization and the power of the powerless can override a draft constitution which has no room for human sovereignty or human dignity.

The people of Burma are demanding genuine public freedom and political liberalization, not century-long military hegemony and bulletocracy.

It is worth noting that General McArthur drafted the Japanese constitution within a week at his desk on a warship, and that there is no written constitution in the United Kingdom, New Zealand or Israel.

It is significant that the international businessmen and transoceanic investors are not interested in an economy run by the current regime.

There are no economic incentives for such multinational firms in Burma due to the junta’s poorly designed monetary and fiscal policy.

Moreover, the junta is losing leverage in their bargaining relations with multinational firms, because of Burma’s low standard of transportation, out-of-date bureaucracy, poor communications infrastructure and notorious political image as a military dictatorship.

Both the military-driven transitional style and the elite-driven transition model ignore the significance of emancipation theory, the people participatory process and neo-Gramscianism in politics.

What I would especially like to point out to Burma’s "Wuthering Heights" elites is that it is a time of human sovereignty, political freedom and human security, and not a time to go along with negative attitudes or "something is better than nothing" approaches.

Moreover, I would like to stress to these elites that Burma is neither a talking shop nor a business enterprise.

Remember: the more educated you are, the more moral responsibility you have to society. You all have a moral responsibility to help the people of Burma get out from under this military oppression and build a knowledge-based society.

Modern intellectuals living in Burma or in exile should not be simply talkers, but must be directors and entrepreneurs who assist in nation-building, political liberalisation and society.

Mass mobilization and emancipation approaches may take a long time and change will not happen overnight in Burma.

But grand revolutions and regime changes that have been brought about by people power have shaped many modern histories and political landscapes all over the world.

It is only by taking a multi-dimensional approach to the democratization process that the bulletocracy can be stopped, representative democracy established, and positive human sovereignty and human security delivered to the people of Burma.

Naing Ko Ko is a postgraduate scholarship student in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He is a former political prisoner.


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