Myanmar Military Will Set Up A Caretaker Government That Allegedly Will Last Until 2023

The military regime in Myanmar, which has called itself the State Administration Council since the February 1 coup, recently announced it would install a caretaker government after cleaning up the mess left by the incompetent and corrupt National League for Democracy (NLD) administration. An election is supposed to follow sometime in 2023 and a new government will then be inaugurated.
Invoking the term ‘caretaker government’ invokes memories of times past and the first of four military interventions following independence. In 1958 and 1960, a highly successful, if authoritarian and dictatorial, military administration governed. Military control seemed inevitable but was actually approved by the legislature, so it was formed as a result of a “constitutional coup.”. The military then held free elections, in which its preferred party lost, and the military retired [temporarily], returning the government to U Nu.
In 1960, the military declared its outstanding success. On terminating its ruling role, it specifically compared its accomplishments to Hercules cleaning out the Augean Stables. The Ministry of Information commended its accomplishments in the volume: Is Trust Vindicated? A Chronicle of Trust, Struggle, and Triumph. The Accomplishments of the Government of the Union of Burma, November 1, 1958-February 1, 1960. In the estimation of today’s observers, will this caretaker government succeed as the first one did in 1958-60? Not bloody likely, as Eliza Doolittle said in My Fair Lady.
Both coups had different origins and circumstances. The politically influential anti-fascist People’s Freedom League split in 1958 over personal rivalries, and the military was worried about civil war as it was already fighting communist insurgencies and the Karen insurgency. The transfer of power occurred in a peaceful manner, with little overt opposition, at least among the majority of Bamar people, due to the blatantly ineffective civilian administration.
If they were demanding, military officers filled key positions in government without corruption or insensitivity to local concerns. However, there were no political arrests and no one was killed. A number of successful economic, political, and even international measures made up for the loss of democratic governance.
Over 170,000 squatters were relocated to the outskirts of Rangoon; the legal prerogatives of the Shan were terminated; an Oxford Professor became vice-chancellor of Rangoon University, while a boundary agreement with China was negotiated. This period may have provided both the rationale and the belief for the military that it could effectively run the country for a longer period of time. History has proven this to be an illusion.
The conditions of today are very different from those of 1958. The NLD’s sweeping victory in the November 2020 election may not necessarily be seen as an endorsement of the rather ineffective Daw Aung San Suu Kyi government – although perhaps it was – but it clearly reflects a widespread distrust of another potential military-dominated government. It is reasonable to believe that the fairly extensive changes of freedom over the past decade have immunized the population against repression, as is evidenced by the widespread violence against the coup which spanned all classes and regions. Over 900 civilians have been killed and more than 5,000 arrested in response to the coup and the people are equally vehement in their rejection of it. The deaths, violence, and unrest associated with the current situation in Myanmar will not be forgotten in the future.
In 1958, the military was uncorrupt, vigorous, and motivated by a sense of patriotism in saving the state from unprincipled civilian politicians it regarded as bent on their own aggrandizement or, in the case of Prime Minister U Nu, adhering to his unrealistic Buddhist-based sense of governance. The same cannot be said today, with the generals in control of much of the economy and retired members of the military and their cohorts ensconced in positions of economic advantage. Shared poverty was once a national characteristic. It isn’t now.
The resistance to the military today is unprecedented in modern Burmese history, surpassing the failed people’s revolution of 1988. Then, the slaughter by the military was far greater but resistance was not founded on violence. Today, the widespread opposition has discarded Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s former insistence on non-violence. Death tolls on all sides continue to climb. As hostilities on both sides continue, the purist moral position of the opposition will probably suffer.
There are those who predict civil war or a debacle similar to the Syrian crisis. Even if the military were able to prevail until their expected departure in 2023, public acquiescence would likely be difficult. The exposure to freedoms built over the previous decade vaccinates against easy compliance with any new government the military would be willing to tolerate. Its objective is evidently to destroy the NLD and render Daw Aung San Suu Kyi politically demolished for her remaining vital years either in jail, under house arrest, or under legal and political restrictions that the military will enact.
It will be a difficult and destructive time for the next two years, regardless of the results. Alas, caretaker governments are more like guards monitoring the activities of confined inmates than nurturing the needy.

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