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  Burma ::    

22 00 N, 98 00 E
Military junta
4 January 1948
678,500 sq km


Government and politics

The Union of Myanmar is military regime. Elected delegates in the 1990 People's Assembly election formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a government-in-exile in December 1990, with the mission of restoring democracy in Myanmar. NCGUB is currently led by prime minister Dr. Sein Win. However, NCGUB has very few powers and has been outlawed in Myanmar. The current Head of State is Senior General Than Shwe, who holds the title of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council." He holds all key powers, including the power to remove ministers and cabinet members, and makes major decisions in international politics. Khin Nyunt was prime minister until 19 October 2004, during which he was replaced by General Soe Win, who has close ties to Than Shwe. The majority of ministry and cabinet posts are held by military officers, with the exceptions being the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, posts which are held by civilians.

Major political parties in Myanmar are the National League for Democracy and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, although their activities are heavily regulated by the regime. Many other parties, often representing the interests of ethnic minorities do exist.There is little tolerance for political opposition, and many parties have been outlawed. The National Unity Party represents the military, and is supported by a mass organisation named the Union Solidarity and Development Association. According to several organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the regime has a poor human rights record.

There is no independent judiciary in Myanmar and political opposition to the military government is not tolerated. Internet access is highly restricted, through software-based filtering that limits the material citizens can access on-line, including most political opposition and pro-democracy web pages. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common, and political dissent is not tolerated.

In 1988, the Burmese army violently repressed protests against economic mismanagement and political oppression. On 8 August 1988, the military opened fire on demonstrators in what is known as 8888 Uprising. However, the 1988 protests paved way for the 1990 People's Assembly elections. The election results were subsequently invalidated by the regime. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 60% of the vote and over 80% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 election, the first held in 30 years. Aung San Suu Kyi has earned international praise as an activist for the return of democratic rule in Myanmar, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has been repeatedly placed under house arrest.

Despite a direct appeal by Kofi Annan to Than Shwe and pressure by ASEAN, the Burmese military junta extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006 under the 1975 State Protection Act, which grants the government the right to detain any persons de jure. The junta faces increasing international isolation. Myanmar's situation was referred to the UN Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. ASEAN has also stated its frustration with Myanmar's government. It has formed the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus to address the lack of democratisation in Myanmar. Dramatic change in the country's political situation remains unlikely, due to support from major regional powers, in particular China.

Ethnic groups

Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%

The History

The Mon are thought to be the earliest group to migrate into the lower Ayeyarwady valley, and by the mid 900s they were dominant in southern Burma.The Pyu arrived in the 1st century BC and established several city kingdoms which traded with India and China. The most powerful Pyu kingdom was Sri Ksetra, which was subsequently abandoned in 656. The Pyu re-established themselves, but in the mid 800s were invaded by the Nanzhao kingdom. The Burmans, or Bamar, began migrating to the Ayeyarwady valley from present-day Tibet sometime prior to the 800s. By 849, they had established a powerful kingdom centred on Pagan.

During the reign of Anawratha (1044-1077), Burman influence expanded throughout much of present-day Myanmar. By the 1100s, large portions of continental Southeast Asia were controlled by the Pagan Kingdom, commonly referred to as the First Burmese Empire. In the late 1200s, Mongols under Kublai Khan invaded the Pagan Kingdom, but by 1364 the Burmans re-established their kingdom at Ava, where Burmese culture entered a golden age. However, in 1527, the Shan pillaged Ava. Meanwhile, the Mon re-established themselves at Pegu, which became a major commercial and religious centre.

Burmans who had fled from Ava established the Toungoo Kingdom in 1531 at Toungoo, under Tabinshwehti, who re-unified Burma and founded the Second Burmese Empire. Because of growing European influence in Southeast Asia, the Toungoo Kingdom became a major trading centre. Bayinnaung expanded the empire by conquering the states of Manipur, Chiang Mai, and Ayutthaya. Internal rebellion and lack of resources necessary to control the acquisitions led to the downfall of the Toungoo Kingdom. Anaukpetlun, who had expelled Portuguese invaders, founded a new dynasty at Ava in 1613. Internal rebellion by the Mon, who were aided by the French, led to the kingdom's downfall in 1752.

Alaungpaya established the Konbaung Dynasty and founded the Third Burmese Empire in the 1700s. In 1767, King Hsinbyushin conquered Ayutthaya which resulted in Thai culture greatly enriching that of the Burmans. The Qing Dynasty of China, fearful of growing Burman power, invaded four times from 1766 to 1769 without success. Later monarchs lost control of Ayutthaya, but acquired Arakan and Tenasserim. Under the reign of King Bagyidaw, in 1824, Mahabandoola captured Assam, adjacent to British territory in India, prompting war. In the Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824–1826, 1851–1852 and 1885–1886), Burma lost territory to the British and became a province of British India. On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered colony, independent of the Indian administration. In the 1940s, the Thirty Comrades, led by Aung San, founded the modern Burmese Tatmadaw, the Armed Forces. The Thirty Comrades received training in Japan.

During World War II Burma became a major front in the Southeast Asian Theatre. After initial successes by the Japanese in the Burma Campaign, during which the British were expelled from most of Burma, the Allies retaliated. By July 1945 they had retaken the country. The Burmese fought for both sides in the war. The Burma 1st Division, the Kachin Levies, the Karen Rifles, and other formations such as the American-Kachin Rangers fought for the Allies. The Burmese National Army under the command of Aung San fought for the Japanese to drive the British out, but subsequently switched sides to drive the Japanese out in 1945.

In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitory government. However, in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members. On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, known as the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth, as it attained independence before the Commonwealth allowed republics to be members. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities. The geographical area Myanmar encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.

Democratic rule ended in 1962 with a military coup d'état led by General Ne Win, who ruled for nearly 26 years and pursued policies under the Burmese Way to Socialism. In 1988, General Saw Maung staged a coup d'état. He formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1989, martial law was declared after widespread protests. Plans for People's Assembly elections were finalised on 31 May 1989. In 1990, free elections were held for the first time in almost 30 years. The NLD, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of a total 485 seats, but the election results were voided by SLORC, which refused to step down. SLORC renamed Burma 'Myanmar' in the English language in 1989. Led by Than Shwe since 1992, the military regime has made cease-fire agreements with the most ethnic guerrilla groups.

In 1992, SLORC unveiled plans to create a new constitution through the National Convention, which began 9 January 1993. In 1997, the State Law and Order Restoration Council was renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). On 23 June 1997, Myanmar was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The National Convention continues to convene and adjourn. Many major political parties, particularly the National League for Democracy, have been excluded, and little progress has been made. On 27 March 2006, the military junta, which had moved the national capital from Yangon to a site near Pyinmana, officially named it Naypyidaw, meaning "seat of kings".


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