speaking out against Aung San Suu Kyi covering up Rohingya genocide, The Guildhall protest against "Freedom of the City Award", London, 8 May 2017

At the London School of Economic "Rule of Law Roundtable", 16 June 2012

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Drafting the Oslo Communique calling for the end to Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide, Voksanaasen, Oslo, 27 May 2015

"National Traitor and Enemy of the State" for his opposition to Rohingya Genocide. Sun Rays, 16/9/17

The Lady and the Generals

Aung San Suu Kyi walks to take an oath at Myanmar's lower house of parliament in May 2012. Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

By Soe Lin Aung & Stephen Campbell
February 25, 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi’s electoral victory could bring political reform to Myanmar. Economic justice is another story.

On election night in Myanmar, as results trickled in and it became clear that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) had won in a landslide, thousands jubilantly crowded outside the party headquarters in Yangon. The air seemed filled with a sense of catharsis — a feeling of deliverance from long suffering under decades of military rule. As one voter said the night of the November 8, 2015 contest, “This is our chance for freedom.”

Yet outside the majority-ethnic Burman lowlands, scenes of exultation were notably absent. While the NLD performed well in these areas, reports indicated disengagement from the electoral process, low voter turnout, and concerns about the NLD’s ability to govern.

Elsewhere, disaffection with electoral politics was the least of concerns. On Election Day in the northern Shan State, the Myanmar military continued bombing the Shan State Army-North. And in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, Rohingya Muslims spent Election Day confined to camps for the internally displaced — this after anti-Muslim violence swept an area where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been living in abject exclusion.

Formal disenfranchisement in the months leading up to the vote was simply the most recent affront. For the first time since independence in 1948, Myanmar’s new parliament — to be seated later this month — will be without a single Muslim representative. “There’s no future for us here,” said one Rohingya teacher.

What, then, to make of this “landslide”? Who gains what, who loses what, and what kinds of oppositional politics have been opened up or closed down? How should the latest transformation in state governance be understood in the context of longer genealogies of power, politics, and political economy in the country?

Among commentators in Myanmar, the word “landslide” has largely lost its metaphorical power. For over two decades, this descriptor served as the default adjective with which to characterize the NLD’s electoral victory in 1990 — an election the military annulled, leading to a retrenchment of military rule. In the aftermath of November’s election, foreign news outlets reported a “historic win” for the pro-democracy opposition — a definitive rupture with the country’s authoritarian past, “ending decades of military-backed rule,” and the realization of Suu Kyi’s Mandela-like “long walk to freedom.”

Surprisingly, the military has shown no signs of interfering with the election results or scuttling the transfer of power. And Thein Sein, the former military general who has had led the country since 2011, has been praised by some as “Myanmar’s real champion of democracy” and “the real hero of the reform process.”

But why, we might ask, has the military allowed the present transition to proceed when it refused to recognize the 1990 election outcome? What has changed in the present moment, and what remains the same?

The Passive Revolution

Several theories about what’s behind the military’s apparent openness are making the rounds. According to some commentators, in the years leading up to 2010, Myanmar’s military generals became increasingly aware of their country’s undeveloped condition compared to neighbors like Singapore and Thailand. This realization is said to have prompted the post-2010 loosening of political restrictions, which have consequently ushered in a “revolution from above” in which the military has voluntarily given up power for the sake of Myanmar’s overall economic and social development.

The development argument is not totally implausible — surely some military figures sincerely want better social and economic conditions — but it remains ahistorical. It also risks veiling a series of narrow, entrenched interests behind a discourse of the general good.

Another prominent line of analysis points to the 2008 constitution. Produced through a military-dominated drafting process, the document reserves 25 percent of parliament seats for the military — so any constitutional amendment requires military approval. The new constitution also bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from holding the presidency. (The clause, 59-f, was written with Suu Kyi in mind; her late husband was British, and her two sons hold British citizenship.)

Additionally, the constitution authorizes the military to appoint the heads of three key ministries: Home Affairs, Border Affairs, and Defense, and doesn’t recognize the federalist demands of ethnic minorities — against whom, in some parts of the country, the military continues to prosecute crippling counter-insurgency campaigns.

These facts underpin the constitutional explanation: the transition has been allowed to proceed because the constitution protects and preserves the place of the military in Myanmar’s political domain for the foreseeable future.

If the development argument suffers from a surfeit of generosity toward the generals, the constitutional argument evinces a limited view of politics — as if formal constitutional arrangements and struggles at the top exhaust the space of politics in Myanmar. Moreover, both arguments either ignore or obscure deeper class transformations that have been unfolding for generations in Myanmar and fail to situate the NLD’s recent victory in Myanmar’s post-1988 market liberalization reforms.

For many democracy advocates in Myanmar, the 1988–1990 period was a failed democratic revolution. The NLD emerged out of a popular uprising in 1988 and became the country’s most prominent organized opposition. But the military cracked down on student protesters and the nascent party, nullified the 1990 election results, and reconsolidated its power.

Confronted with broad popular opposition at home and international condemnation abroad, the newly installed military council tried to placate calls for political liberalization by implementing a process of gradual economic liberalization, rolled out over the next two decades. Restrictions on imports and exports were loosened, government distribution of subsidized staple goods was ended, and private foreign investment was actively courted.

A series of effects was legible even in the nineties. Myanmar’s agricultural export growth increased the value of agricultural land, fueling a consolidation of land ownership, the proletarianization of many smallholders, and increased economic disparity in rural Myanmar.

Inflation through much of the decade, in combination with the elimination of government subsidies, led to a rising cost of living for the country’s mostly poor population. (More recently, the intensification of military and corporate land grabs has further consolidated agricultural land.)

Significantly, this first wave of market liberalization coincided with — and indeed, was made possible by — the emergence of what some call Myanmar’s “crony businessmen.” With close ties to the military, major figures like Tay Za (of Htoo Trading Co.) and Zaw Zaw (of the Max Myanmar group) established and developed their businesses beginning in the 1990s.

Some, like Khin Shwe (chairman of Zaykabar Ltd.) and Htay Myint (chairman of the Yuzana group), even became members of parliament (MPs) in the Union Solidarity and Development Party, Myanmar’s previous ruling party, before succumbing to defeat in the recent election. Others who ran as independents — Sakura Htay Aung, Zawtika Khin Hlaing — also were defeated.

Tellingly, however, the mood among the ousted businessmen appears far from grim. Khin Shwe, for one, has said he’s optimistic that he will profit from increased foreign investment under an NLD government.

The rise to prominence of a distinct group of capitalists in the nineties amid a newly market-oriented economy marked a profound shift in Myanmar’s economic history. Even before the military’s 1962 coup, the parliamentary socialist government under U Nu associated private capital with colonialism.

Through state-led industrialization policies — beginning under U Nu and reaching their zenith under the post-1962 Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP) — private capital was to be disavowed and overcome through an austere developmental socialism.

Unlike neighboring countries, Myanmar’s class landscape displayed a conspicuous lack of monopoly houses, entrepreneurial capital, or rural landed elites. Instead, there was only a pallid bureaucratic-managerial elite, backed by a militarized state apparatus that continued to control key industrial sectors and public services. While socialist in name, the BSPP’s own ideological architect acknowledged that the arrangement could more accurately be described as “state capitalism.”

Against this backdrop of developmental militarism — on the verge of collapse by the late 1980s — Myanmar’s new capitalists represented a marked departure. In addition to the emergence of figures like Tay Za and Zaw Zaw during the nineties liberalization period, numerous military officials also acquired independent for-profit enterprises and set up two military-controlled holding companies: the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (established in 1990) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (established in 1997).

The post-1988 economic transition, then, was characterized by both a transformation and a reconsolidation of military-capitalist class rule — developments that occurred well before the political shifts of the past five years.

Still, the contrast between the two periods is striking. In 1988, there was no independent capitalist class to speak of. Now there’s a small but growing capitalist class comprised of influential businessmen who came into their own during the nineties, military leaders who moved into directly capitalist enterprises, and a host of smaller-scale actors.

While long-dominant sectors — oil and gas, mining, timber, industry — are still growing, Myanmar’s private sector has become increasingly diversified, with a burgeoning technology sector, service economy, consumer sector, and manufacturing sector.

Crony businessmen like Tay Za, Khin Shwe, and Htay Myint do not together constitute a fully developed capitalist class, nor do they exercise a hegemonic position — in fact, they are routinely vilified throughout Myanmar. Nonetheless, in the 1990s, such individuals brought private capital back into Myanmar, and today, a much bigger, more varied capitalist class does seem to speak from a position of influence.

Look no further, for instance, than the liberal political class and the mass of Western-funded civil society organizations, who are content with the dominant economic vision of the outgoing government. While trumpeting a message of change, the NLD’s economic approach is also one of continuity.

In broad terms, a neoliberal growth consensus reigns across the formal political spectrum and in civil society. And Myanmar’s middle and upper classes are fully under the sway of the capitalist classes’ moral-political leadership. The generals and their cronies can now retreat from formal politics, secure in in the knowledge that the NLD victory will further enrich their position.

Antonio Gramsci’s theory of passive revolution is useful here. For Gramsci, passive revolution was the process through which the Italian state modernized “without passing through the political revolution of the radical Jacobin type.” Much later, Indian scholars drew on Gramsci’s work to understand the transition from colonialism to postcolonialism and shifts in class relations in postcolonial politics.

Central to all uses of the concept is the idea that passive revolution consists, in large part, of the absorption of forces of opposition, not just through domination, but also, in Gramsci’s words, through “moral and intellectual leadership” — in other words, hegemony. No Jacobin spectacle, no clear modern prince, only the “molecular” modification and recombination of shifting class alliances within broader relations of power.

In Myanmar, modernizing reforms have produced a new hegemony of dominant classes while leaving subordinate classes in a condition of subalternity. Under this “revolution without a revolution,” elites have conceded to a limited set of popular demands — but only as means to reconsolidate and maintain existing class rule, co-opt formal political opposition, and subvert demands for more radical political change.

Dyarchy Redux

While radical political change would require the full subordination of military to civilian rule, it is unclear how this could be realized any time soon. As noted above, the 2008 constitution allocates 25 percent of parliamentary seats to unelected military personnel; constitutional amendments require the support of at least 75+1 percent of the parliament; and the military retains full ministerial control over Home Affairs, Border Affairs, and Defense.

The military has been placing officers in civilian posts within the Health, Education, and Energy ministries, as well as the Supreme Court. Hence the NLD, despite winning 78 percent of the country’s electoral districts, will hold only 59 percent of the parliamentary seats, and its political class will still be dwarfed by the heavily militarized bureaucratic-managerial elite.

This constitutionally mandated dual legislative structure — a mix of elected and appointed parliamentary seats — has been likened to the dyarchy system introduced in Myanmar under colonial rule in 1923. During the colonial period, critics immediately recognized the dyarchy system as a ploy to incorporate moderate Burmese politicians into the colonial state apparatus. At the same time, the institutional setup weakened the anti-colonial opposition and sidelined demands for immediate independence by the more radical anti-colonial activists.

Today, “dyarchy” describes not only the ominous admixture of authoritarian and liberal political forms, but also the military’s occupation of the position once held by an overt colonizing force. For ethnic minorities beyond — and in some cases within — Myanmar’s lowlands, the idea of a new colonialism is no merely metaphorical claim.

As one ethnic activist wrote in the lead up to the election, “What we have now is a new brand of colonialism [where the] government continues the tradition of colonial oppression by dominating the people, especially in areas populated by ethnic minorities.”

Amid this dyarchy redux, can we expect the NLD to challenge the country’s emerging status quo from within?

Suu Kyi has made it clear she intends to seek constitutional reform to limit the power of unelected military members of parliament. Narrowly focusing on constitutional reform, however, overlooks the extent to which the shape of the country’s evolving structures of power are being determined by extra-parliamentary actors with influence over the country’s economic policy.

Recent liberalization shows that the NLD is now completely under the spell of the capitalist classes. Following the 2010 election, international sanctions on Myanmar were loosened in an effort to attract investment from Euro-American companies.

At the beginning of 2012, the World Bank began re-engaging with Myanmar, lending funds to government agencies and providing technical advice on “debt management [and] foreign investment law.”

By the end of the year, the Myanmar government had introduced a law allowing foreign companies full ownership of ventures within Myanmar, providing tax breaks to foreign investors, and permitting outside investors to hold long-term land leases. (An updated version of the legislation, which likely further reduces restrictions on foreign investors, has been under consideration for the past year.)

A diversification of capital flows is also afoot. After the post-1988 economic transition, inter-Asian investment in Myanmar grew significantly, but incipient north Atlantic capital was shut out through Euro-American sanctions. While inter-Asian capital movement is still considerable, since 2012 American and European capital has re-embraced the country. Western media have responded with hype and hyperbole, describing opportunities for foreign investment in Myanmar as “a gold rush.”

Those who would look to the NLD to challenge the hegemonic policies of financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF will be sorely disappointed. Its economic platform voices support for numerous worrying policies — immensely expanding the use of “under-utilized” land, promoting investment in agribusiness and agro-forestry, and privatizing property rights and state enterprises.

The party has even cozied up to Myanmar’s new business elites. It accepted financial contributions during the election from Tay Za and Zaw Zaw; Tay Za gifted Suu Kyi a “platinum membership” for his airline Asian Wings, enabling her to fly at no charge “for the rest of her life.”

In short, prospects for change from within the new dyarchy appear bleak. The NLD does not seem interested in fighting the new power structures or contesting key parts of the old structures. The sole exception — the party’s legalistic crusade against the 2008 constitution — arguably has more to do with Suu Kyi’s desire to become president than any substantive commitment to political transformation.

Emerging Contradictions

In the face of a complex, shifting political economy, Myanmar’s military figures have done a great deal to secure their position. Through the post-2010 reforms, Myanmar’s generals tried to broker a class compromise between senior military personnel, private capitalists, and a rising political class — most prominently, the NLD leadership. The measures, however, have also opened up space for farmers, workers, and radical students to vigorously assert their own claims, challenging this would-be class compromise.

With the removal of sanctions, moves towards export-led growth, and increasing land value, the dispossession of land and natural resources has intensified processes of capital accumulation by military and corporate actors. But simultaneous political liberalization has emboldened the expropriated, who have engaged in open protests, direct actions, and occupations. The police reaction has been to harass, violently persecute, and arrest those involved.

To date, the most acute unrest has been at Monywa, in western Myanmar. Since 2012 dispossessed peasants have organized widely supported protests demanding the return of their land. In 2011, they were forcibly evicted to make way for the Letpadaung copper mine, run by the Chinese company Wanbao and the Myanmar military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited. Myanmar security forces responded to the demonstrating villagers and Buddhist monks by deploying highly toxic and explosive white phosphorus.

Suu Kyi, appointed in 2012 to head the government’s Letpadaung Investigation Commission, visited the site and told the protestors that “they should respect ‘rule of law’ and sacrifice their lands” for the country’s development. The protestors “vehemently rejected” her suggestions.

Worker actions have also proliferated despite efforts to contain such actions in restrictive bureaucratic labor relations. Motivated by a desire to prevent strikes, the government cooperated with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to legalize trade unions, institutionalize collective bargaining, and establish a government labor arbitration body.

But almost as soon as the first piece of labor legislation passed in 2011, the Hlaing Thar Yar, Shwepyithar, and Hmawbi industrial zones around Yangon erupted in a wave of strikes. More than three years later, workers in Myanmar have expressed a lack of confidence in the government’s Labor Arbitration Council, even as the ILO insists the council has been “remarkably successful.”

Students have also sought to claim political ground in Myanmar. In September 2014, the government passed an education bill — with support, notably, from the NLD — that, to the chagrin of students, centralized curriculum development, restricted academic independence, and placed limits on student unions.

Student protests began in Yangon at the end of 2014, followed by demonstrations in Mandalay; the most radical students staged a march from Mandalay to Yangon, only to be assaulted and arrested by police. Many of the students remain in prison today. (Suu Kyi has “cautioned the students against exerting pressure on parliament” to amend the bill.)

This rising tide of extra-parliamentary struggle illustrates the significant contradictions in Myanmar’s post-2010 class landscape. To be sure, the recent elections represent a significant moment in the country’s political transformation. Yet there is no sign that Suu Kyi will be able — if it is even her intention — to address the new conflicts of class and power that have fueled popular struggles in recent years.
Popular Trajectories

In the last century, in Myanmar as elsewhere, a range of broad-based political movements offered transformative visions of political change: anti-colonial mobilization, class-based labor battles, communist insurgencies, ethnic rebellions in Myanmar’s highlands. Movements based on nation, race, and class produced struggles against colonizing forces, entrenched class interests, and the neocolonial Burman lowlands.

Radical politics are hardly absent from Myanmar’s contemporary political landscape, as seen in the unrest by farmers, workers, and students. Yet the abiding tendency is towards a highly situational politics, the proliferation of sectional and differential claims on power and politics that, occasionally, may come together under precarious coalitional banners.

This more tangled brand of politics — contra the class- or nation-based mobilizations of decades past — is in some ways less a politics than a micropolitics, that molecular process of shifting alliances of power and class that Gramsci identified in his account of Italian history.

In many ways, the NLD’s recent electoral victory was a classic populist win: the convergence of a vast set of heterogeneous demands under a banner whose political imprecision, so often criticized, is probably its greatest strength. On one side, the Lady backed by the people. On the other, the generals backed by authoritarianism.

Moreover, those who have greeted the NLD’s electoral victory with outpourings of joy should not be regarded simply as pawns in a demagogic political machinery. Instead, they signify the enduring ability of the NLD, maintained over a quarter-century of heavy-handed political repression, to appeal deeply, if unevenly, across Myanmar’s scarred political landscape.

The rhetoric of that simple opposition — the Lady versus the generals — has generated a divide, on one side of which a panoply of different politics could assemble under the heading of the people. Yet the popular success of the NLD going forward will hinge on its ability to push beyond that reductionist divide to meet diverse demands on the ground.

Questions remain about whom the NLD represents, on whose behalf Suu Kyi can claim to speak, and whether her party will directly engage with the immediate struggles of subordinated groups. The signs are hardly encouraging: in the gathering hegemony of a diversified capitalist class; in the curious resurrection of colonial dyarchy; in the NLD and Suu Kyi’s tone-deafness toward incipient movements of farmers, workers, and students; and most ominously, in the booming silence of the new political class over the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar.

In all of this, one finds not only structural constraints on the NLD’s ability to pursue a progressive program of reform, but also serious doubts about whether the NLD even has the desire to do so. Meanwhile, popular struggles in the fields and the factories have seized new opportunities for mobilization, seeking to bend Myanmar’s political trajectory toward a more radical egalitarian vision.

Military crushes Aung San Suu Kyi’s hope of becoming President

Aung San Suu Kyi. Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Rachel Cunliffe
February 25, 2016

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She is Burma’s leading lady, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and the leader of a party which won an overwhelming 77 percent of available seats in November’s historic elections. But a clause in the constitution still blocks Aung San Suu Kyi from ever becoming Burma’s President.

The articles in question were created when Burma’s military government wrote a new constitution in 2008, and prevent the presidency being held by anyone with a foreign spouse or foreign children. It is highly likely this provision was specifically aimed at Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British, as are her two sons.

However, after Suu Kyi’s party, the National Democracy League, won a crushing victory last year, there was hope that the constitution might be amended and this ban be repealed. The military was guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in parliament, allowing them to block constitutional changes which require more than 75 percent of the votes. Suu Kyi has therefore been negotiating with commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing, and as recently as two weeks ago, talks seemed to be progressing well – on February 7th, two pro-government broadcasters announced that “positive results could come out on the negotiation for the suspension of the constitution Article 59 (f).”

On Monday, such hopes fell apart. At a meeting with other military officers, Min Aung Hlaing said that:

“Since Myanmar has been undergoing democratization only for five years, necessary provisions should be amended at an appropriate time in accordance with the chapter XII of the constitution.”

In other words, now is not the time to be repealing unfair and undemocratic clauses in the constitution, which conveniently serves to retain as much power as possible for the military elite.

This is a blow to anyone who cares about democracy, justice, or the future of development in Burma. Min Aung Hlaing was never elected by the people of Burma, but is an army official appointed by the military. The crucial 25 percent of seats which enable the military to block changes proposed by the NDL were allocated automatically, regardless of the election results. Other constitutional articles also continue to guarantee the military power to influence or obstruct any elected government. Suu Kyi and her party achieved an unequivocal mandate to govern, and are being prevented from doing so by unaccountable officials.

For her part, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated that even if she does not become President, she would still control her party and the country. Before her landslide victory, she announced that, if the NDL won, she would be “above the President”. Despite the military’s resistance to democracy, it is still up to the NDL to choose the President, so Suu Kyi will be able to select someone close to her and govern from behind the scenes.

But to anyone who imagined November’s elections marked a new era of transparency and political freedom for Burma, Min Aung Hlaing’s announcement is a crushing blow. Burma’s democratic icon fights on.

Rachel Cunliffe is Deputy Editor of CapX.

Myanmar and its enablers of genocidal racism

The Lady and the Boat Rides

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with the notorious Rakhine racist leader Aye Maung, Yangon, Myanmar, February 2013.

The Lady and the Boat Rides

Brother, be kind, she is in a bind.

Nazi Aye Maung has gagged her from ever mentioning "the word Rohingya from your mouth" unless she is prepared to loose Rakhine support in Arakan.

Against her presidential ambitions,
Myanmar generals have unleashed Ma-Ba-Tha's racism as Religion

(Ma Ba Tha, i.e., Association for the Protection of Myanmar Race and Buddhist Religion).

Experts say the Silence of the Lady is owing to the election maths
Her soul isn't really dead, yet.

Brother, you need to learn that pragmatism is the name of Myanmar's game.
Idealism and principles are bad for your ambitions.
So, it's not fair you accuse her of being morally lame.

You are right.
She is no longer in an electoral bind
Yes, her party won the landslide.
But the time is not ripe for her to get the Rohingya genocide right.

Let the Nobel Lady repeat Myanmar's Sovereign Lie:
"We want the world to know there is no ethnic cleansing in our country of Myanmar."
Just as the old Germans feared the Jews - 0.76 percent of the Third Reich -
We the Myanmar Buddhists too fear the Muslims today.

That makes it alright, right?

But, don't you worry.
She is the Mother of the Nation.

Mother Suu IS going to make everything alright.

Yes, President Suu Kyi will get everything right.
Even that horrible genocide.

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh .....

Don't "exaggerate" Rohingya's plight, Mother would chide.

Brother, you need to be patient.

Our Leader-Mommy is engaged in horse-trading.

All you do is BLAME, BLAME and BLAME!

Patience is virtue. It's only a genocide.

So, all you Rohingya, sit tight.

Try to survive your trafficking boat rides.


Myanmar: Immunity for Hate-Mongers/Violence-inciters, Jails for satirists



NLD condemns U Wirathu for hate speech over violent video 

By Wa Lone
Myanmar Times
February 2, 2016

The National League for Democracy has condemned nationalist monk U Wirathu for posting a video on social media seen to be inciting inter-communal violence.

In response to messages by readers condemning the video as hate speech, Facebook took down the post on Monday night but only after it had been widely seen and distributed for three days. Facebook told readers the post had “violated our Community Standards”.

The six-minute video, called The Black Day, depicts a Buddhist woman being raped and killed by three men in gruesome detail. A narrator explains that this is a reenactment of the murder of Ma Thida Htwe in Rakhine State in 2012 by kalar – a derogatory term used to refer to South Asians and especially Muslims. Her killing, magnified by reports and rumours, led to a revenge attack on Muslims and triggered widespread violence across Rakhine state, resulting in at least 167 deaths and the displacement of over 140,000 people, according to the government. The two communities have remained segregated since then.

U Wirathu, who has a wide following and had been jailed by the former military junta for inciting religious hatred, told The Myanmar Times that the clip was a trailer for a longer video he plans to release after the NLD assumes office. He said he had not posted the video earlier so as to avoid fueling tensions during the elections last year and the current transition period.

"I want to show the NLD government that it needs to prioritise protecting the race and religion of the country," the 47-year-old Mandalay monk said.

Senior NLD official and party spokesperson U Win Htein condemned U Wirathu for his action, accusing him of trying to stir up trouble in the country.

"I really want to ask to U Wirithu if he is a real Buddhist monk or if he is making trouble in the community due to poor morals,” U Win Htein told The Myanmar Times.

U Win Htein recalled attacks on the NLD during the election campaign last year by Ma Ba Tha, the nationalist Buddhist organisation, some of whose members, including U Wirathu, campaigned for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

"It would be ridiculous if we were afraid of such a threat [by U Wirathu]," U Win Htein said.

Minister of Information U Ye Htut declined to comment on the video which he said was the responsibility of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. "I got information from Facebook about someone commenting on the video so the Ministry of Information will remind the Ministry of Religious Affairs to handle the case,” he said.

U Wirathu, who has long been involved with the anti-Muslim 969 movement and denies inciting violence, confirmed that he posted the video on January 30.

By the time it had been removed by Facebook, it had attracted nearly 120,000 views and shared over 8000 times.

U Wirathu told The Myanmar Times last November that he had admired Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when she was a political prisoner fighting for democracy. But he turned against her and the party for its opposition in parliament to four “race and religion” laws promoted by Ma Ba Tha that set out to regulate matters of interfaith marriage, population control and monogamy.

Ma Ba Tha and activists like U Wirathu were seen last year as potentially influencing the outcome of the elections to such an extent that the NLD decided not to field a single Muslim candidate.

In 2013 inter-communal violence spread to the town of Meiktila and other parts of central Myanmar, claiming dozens of lives. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights at the time urged U Thein Sein’s government to take immediate action to stop the violence, saying it should act against “campaigns of discrimination and hate speech which are fuelling racist and, in particular, anti-Muslim feeling in the country”.

In June 2014 a false report spread on social media that a Buddhist woman had been raped by Muslim men triggered violence in Mandalay. Two people were killed.

U Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of the Voice newspaper, criticised the government for jailing NLD supporters and activists who had satirised the military on Facebook, but then refusing to take action against nationalist groups spreading hate speech on social media.

“In this time of transition the government should be working to foster improvement and no one should be making such insults,” he said.

Betrayed by statistics: GDP ‘growth’ leaves Burmese no richer

A child beggar asks for money in a tea shop in Rangoon. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

By Dr Nyo Tun
February 1, 2016

In a recent Preliminary Republican Presidential Debate held at North Charleston, South Carolina on 14 January, Senator Rick Santorum received a large round of applause for making a critical remark, “let me tell you this, Mr. President. For every dollar of GDP, China creates five times as much pollution as we do here”. This example brings to light that an increase in GDP of a country does not necessarily indicate the situation of its people are improved –– nor that their government is contributing the best interests of global society as a whole.

Speaking to local people in the city hall of Myitkyina, the capital of the Kachin State, Burma’s President Thein Sein recently announced that the average individual income of the nation had increased from $800 in 2010-11 to nearly $1,300 per person by the end of his term. Burmese people may feel that their own Mr. President’s claim is ‘incredible’ –– they might like to ask him or his economic advisors if they can provide affirmative evidence to convince them of the statement.

A substantial problem of this statement is that the current national GDP the President referred to has not been adjusted for the consumer price index (CPI) to reflect changes in the price level of services and goods purchased by households. For example, in 2010 a household consisting of a married couple spent 1000 kyats (CPI 100 points) for preparing one essential meal package; if they needed to spend 1250 kyats (CPI 125 points) for preparing the same meal package in 2015, CPI was said to have increased by 1.25 times. Consequently, the nominal GDP of $1,300 needs to be readjusted by dividing it by 1.25 to reflect the actual value of GDP. For this reason, even if the GDP stated by Thein Sein was measured correctly, the actual monetary power of the citizens was $1300 divided by 1.25, that was only $1,040 indicating only 27% increase in terms of the real GDP of Burmese citizens.

The problem of using GDP as a prime measurement to indicate the wellbeing of people is not limited to the mere difference in the nominal and real GDPs. A national GDP is only an aggregate value and the GDP per capita is simply a result obtained from dividing the aggregate value in dollars by the population. Illustrating the aggregate GDP as representative of individual income is unfortunate because in many instances, this raw average will not reflect the real-life situation of many citizens.

The aggregate values can be expected to increase in accordance with the development of new technology and foreign investment. However, in many situations, things can also become much worse to many people in modern transitional economies, especially under the bad management of ‘non-compassionate’ governments.

For example, doing business with a foreign investment firm, a local ‘crony’ company takes the land of the farmers to operate some giant industry. Their land value will be certainly increased and the total GDP value will take account of this price change in the land value. However, for the pervious landowner farmers, losing their own and becoming jobless, their income goes down. However, the decline of the farmers’ income will not reflect in the total GDP or their small income is just considered negligible in relation to the exorbitant increase in land prices.

Another questionable point is the lack of accounting for the depreciation values of assets in calculating the national GDP. This problem is much substantial for a nation like Burma where the military oligarchs have almost absolute right to allocate the nation’s resources without significant counter-checks, transparency and accountability. In Burma, a range of median to giant industries are controlled by either the Ministry of Industry that operates state-owned enterprises or Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) that is officially under the Ministry of Defence. Many state owned enterprises faced a loss of $52.6 million during the 2012-13 fiscal year while the revenues of MEC are not held accountable to the parliament –– its profits are accessible only for a privileged group of people.

While the Ministry of Industry burdens the nation with unprofitable losses and the revenues of military business conglomerates remain inaccessible to the general public, we should notice that depreciation of assets owned by these industries are also a great waste to the nation over the time. For example, if certain industrial assets with a worth of $100 million at 2010 depreciated at a linear rate of eight percent per year, by the time of 2015 the assets’ replacement value will be only worth $60 million. The significant problem is that in measuring the GDP, the depreciation rates of assets are usually unaccounted; in this example, there will be an overestimate of $40 million in calculating the national GDP.

Even without taking account of the depreciation rates that would require meticulous work of calculation, there is also another gross problem of using different denominators: Burma’s census of 2014 reported a population of just 51.4 million, not 60 million. The latter was the denominator for calculating per capita GDP thoroughly used for the years before 2014. When Burma finds itself a much less population of only about 51 million, its per capita GDP will be automatically increased to a large margin by 17% in its GDP measurement of 2014-15.

Without critical examination of the contents, taking the GDP at face value will lead to an incorrect measuring of a national government’s performance for its people. Burma is currently ranked 157th out of 174 countries in the Corruption Perception Index, rendered as the third most corrupted country among all Asia Pacific nations. Indeed the nationwide election results of 2015 are perfectly affirmative to demonstrate the evidence of the public’s discontent over the incumbent government’s poor ability to improve the situation of the people. When economists grumble about their glitch in measurement methods, they quote a saying “Economics is the dismal science”. For Burmese people, Democracy speaks more truth than the dismal science does.

Myanmar Way to Democracy: Aung San Suu Kyi will run the cabinet, but the generals continue to run the lives of 1.5 million“

Constitutional lawyer Ko Ni explains how the General Administration Department grants the army control over all levels of the civil service.(Photo: Phyo Thiha Cho/Myanmar Now)

All levels of government administration are under authority of the military chief”

By Phyo Thiha Cho
February 1, 2016

YANGON -- As the National League for Democracy (NLD) prepares to take over from the army-backed government of President Thein Sein it faces the challenge of getting a handle on government institutions and possibly reforming them.

One such institution is the General Administration Department (GAD), which functions as the backbone of local administration throughout the country. The GAD falls under the Home Affairs Ministry, which is controlled by an army general in accordance with the Constitution. It pervades Myanmar’s civil service from the state and region level, down to the district, township, village and ward levels.

Created in 1972, the GAD grants Myanmar’s army chief direct, centralised control over government administration down to the lowest level. This mechanism raises questions over whether the NLD can wield effective control over government machinery. The GAD will also have to be reformed and civil service control decentralised to states and regions if ethnic minorities’ demands for a federal union are to be met.

Ko Ni, a Supreme Court lawyer who is a legal advisor to the NLD, spoke to Myanmar Now reporter Phyo Thiha Cho about the importance of bringing the GAD under civilian control and decentralising its powers.

Question: What needs to be done to address the decades-old problem of bad governance in Myanmar?

Answer: The former military leader Ne Win formulated a general administration system that is controlled by a single government agency (the GAD). All the 14 states and regions’ civil services are under the management of Ministry of Home Affairs. The same practice was kept up by the military government after the 1988 coup.

In accordance with the 2008 Constitution, there are 15 governments - the central government and the 14 state and region governments. It is a seemingly liberal administration system for respective states and regions without obvious controls of the central government.

But actually the whole country is administered by the General Administration Department and the Myanmar Police Force, which are under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Its minister is appointed by the military chief. So, all the levels of the administration system are under the authority of the military chief.

Q: There are elected officials in some of the local government units, such as on village level, working alongside the GAD, but it seems the GAD handles most of the governing and has the most authority. Is that correct? 

A: Yes, this is a highly centralised system of government. Actually, the state and region parliaments elect their government members and have their own chief ministers (appointed by the president). 

States and regions should be able to appoint their civil service staff, as well as police members. And then they would not have to depend on the central government and could control a lot of administration processes. Their respective ministries could find budget for their own government.

But as the central government is currently taking power on these processes (through the GAD), the (state and regions’) local ministries have no authority in their own areas.

Q: What should the new government do with regards to reforming the GAD if it wants to create a real federal union?

A: Most of the military members, the government and our NLD party now want to develop our country with a federal administration system. In doing so, the whole administration system must be changed. The control of General Administration Department on all the government procedures is contrary to the federal system and should be abolished.

Q: Some say at least parts of the 2008 Constitution meet the norms of a federal system. Is that right?

A: It cannot be said the 2008 Constitution has some norms of a federal system. It completely lacks federal practices. It is just a fake ‘federal constitution’ because it does not grant full authority of administration to state and regional governments. 

The Constitution said the local governments are responsible for supporting the central government’s efforts to ensure peace and rule of law. In fact, (in case of a federal union) the central government must not intervene in the administration of local governments at all. But the central government now has full authority over the whole country and the local government lacks real power.