Continuing Rangoon protests

Rangoon protests thus far
A compiled map of general locations (sorry about the poor quality of the map; I scanned a small map, which shows a general picture of the Rangoon townships rather than all of the streets) where protests in Rangoon have occurred since the increase of gas prices in Burma.

To my amazement, protests calling for an immediate decrease in the prices of gas in Burma have continued, for the second week. There have been incidents throughout Burma, in particular Rangoon, where a junta-funded paramilitary group that calls itself “Swan Arr Shin” (Masters of Force) and Union Solidarity and Development Association members have been dispatched to quell protests and in many instances, use brute force to do so.

However, some have criticized the way these seemingly spontaneous protests are being coordinated. There are several groups that have been leading protests in Rangoon, namely the 88 Generation Students Group and the National League for Democracy (NLD). But both groups have been severely set back by the arrest of their respective leaders, who include Min Ko Naing and Aung San Suu Kyi. I read an article that criticizes the NLD’s failure to bring about new leaders to run the opposition movement. As I have said before, for all the respect I have for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, they are more figureheads, symbolic of Burma’s democracy. They may garner accolades from the international community, but they have little say in Burma, where the majority of people want better livelihoods. Democracy may be a tantalizing idea for them, but it is not at all a priority, as the recent protests have suggested. The article states the following:

Without Aung San Suu Kyi or other leaders like her, the opposition movement in Burma must continue under a strong leadership. If the NLD leadership seriously thinks it has to change its policy with reflecting the desire of the people, it’s time for change at the top.

Indeed so. It’s time to restructure the Burmese opposition movement. Time to move away from seeing a celebrity supporting Aung San Suu Kyi as a victory, seeing Laura Bush tell the UN Secretary-General to condemn protest arrests, and seeing a Star Trek actor visit a border refugee camp as victories. These stories may be good publicity, but they do little inside Burma. What I am writing now is doing little.

The protests have slowly dwindled, as many of the protest leaders, their families and individual protesters have suffered harassment, arrest and beatings from fellow Burmese, who as one article put it, share the same struggles but are still on opposite sides. The courage of these people is enormous. From Meiktila to Sittwe, from Mandalay to Pegu, the Burmese people have signaled their intent for change. But what order? Economic before political, more factory jobs versus free elections, international investment versus government welfare?

Today also marks the completion of the first step of the (7-step) Roadmap to Democracy, after fourteen years of on-and-off-again sessions of the National Convention. (The Irrawaddy reports that the National Convention will end next week.) The Burmese government sees itself, the military wing, as a major component of the democracy it is creating. In a few years, or even the next year, Burmese voters will have the chance to vote for the constitution: either the military government as is or a democracy created by the military government. I have little doubt that the constitution will be approved, but I believe that the military’s creation (democracy) will curtail the human rights of the Burmese people.

These small-scale but politically important protests are unlikely to create revolution. More likely, the government’s mandates will take effect and the Burmese people will be herded through its version of a democracy. Maybe through that version, the Burmese people will finally be able to create change to ensure better livelihoods and more.

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