Aung San and Arthur Bottomley at Panglong Conference (Photo-Wikipedia).

Preamble: This article is written for thoughtful readers. Myanmar is an inclusive word meaning Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Shan, Mon, Rakhine, all Myanmar citizens, etc. When the word Burmese or Burma is used, it has to do with British usage during their rule or as leftover usage. Foreign readers are unlikely to know the sense of some of the Bamar words in this article. This is written as an article, in order to stay compact. Elaboration generally is kept to a minimum.

Let me review a highly compressed Constitution Law history of Myanmar, starting with just before and since Independence in 1948. I am no legal expert, but this article below is written for anyone with basic common sense. Common Sense understanding of the Constitutional law for Myanmar should be taught in every school in Myanmar, much like in the USA regarding its Constitution, its political and government systems. Also in the USA, those who wish to be citizens need to attend classes to get to know of their system of government. This article regarding the Constitution in general and for Myanmar in particular, is nowhere near as comprehensive as that taught at American school systems, but should provide sufficient understanding of the Myanmar Constitution realities for the upcoming General Election of November 2020. 

Myanmar, after about 15 years of Independence, got its main political party AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League) trashed. Its political and governmental systems trashed. Its Constitution got trashed in many ways. The Union of Myanmar got very close to getting disunited and trashed. That was the handiwork of U Nu, the first prime minister. Myanmar, a country with no overpopulation problems, and one of the best South-East Asian countries economically and educationally, with very good natural resources, with people who have good IQs and can be trained well, was well on its way to getting totally trashed.

The most important national conference prior to Independence, to help define the Constitutional Law requirements, but only obliquely, was the Pan-long Conference, held in February, 1947 [the relationship between the central government and state, provincial, or territorial governments]. Its main purpose was not about comprehensively defining the Constitutional Law, it was with regard to whether the Frontier Region non-Bamar ethnic groups will stay together with the Bamars who were getting Independence from the British, or to fracture away and remain under colonialist rule. The agreement for the Union was decided. Underlying implicit very important imperative was for the coming new Union government to be governed as a democratic, and as a secular state. 

Immediately after WW2 and its horrendous genocidal excessiveness World Wide, the British Military [Lord Louis Mountbatten, Governor Hubert Rance; YouTube video: Burma Independence Day (Jan-4-1948)] administrators truly intended the Myanmar people to decide their destiny for themselves. However, there were Empire Loyalist Obnoxious British Colonial Civilian administration people, who wanted to perpetrate their empire forever, and they were involved in the assassination of Bogyoke Aung San the leader for Independence, and the top tier Myanmar political leadership on July 19th, of 1947.   

U Nu, somewhat amenable to the British government in London, was made prime minister. The Constitution of that time accorded the prime minister to be leader of the executive branch and the President as a figurehead of state, but he may temporarily wield executive powers during a Constitutional crisis whenever the prime minister role becomes non-functional.  The economy flourished because the Korean War greatly increased rice export. U Nu’s regime had many downsides, and almost all of them were to do with him wanting to be prime minister perpetually. That did not bode well with his own major political partners, who naturally would like to have their turns to be prime ministers, especially when U Nu already broadly served for two terms (8 years). The ruling party started to split up in 1957. Later in 1959, a seminal book “The Split” in English, by distinguished journalist Guardian Sein Win (bio; Wiki) documented the event, revealing the shenanigans U Nu committed to hold on to power, when he should be handing over state power to the President because of the developing Constitutional crisis. To a large extent it was U Nu’s addiction to be prime minister that contributed to the drawn-out disintegration of the governing political party, AFPFL. With that gone, the political safety net of the country ceased to exist. 

Another one of his political strategies was to use Buddhist religion and with him as its supreme proponent, and was to get votes from the ethnic Bamar majority. He did not care a hoot of whether he weakened the unity of the Union of Myanmar that was also made up of non-Buddhist ethnic groups.  He was not important enough to be involved in the Pan-long Conference of 1947, a conference that defined the unity principles of the Myanmar people. The average Bamar voter was indifferent about the Union becoming a Buddhist state. Nonetheless, when he won the 1961 election due to other issues beside religion, he declared Myanmar to be a Buddhist state. Immediately, the ethnic Kachins, who used to be one of the most loyal to the Union, declared the formation of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The unity of the Union began to crumble.

U Nu, the man with a giant ineptitude regarding governance, soon ran into intractable problems with his own political party fraction partners, and provided General Ne Win with ample plausible reasons to grab power. 

Ne Win was Myanmar’s military dictator from 1962 to 1988. The following paragraph is from Wikipedia.

Ne Win founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and overthrew the democratic Union Parliament of U Nu in the 1962 Burmese coup d’état, establishing Burma as a one-party socialist state under the Burmese Way to Socialism ideology. Ne Win was Burma’s de facto leader as chairman of the BSPP, serving in various official titles as part of his military government, and was known by his supporters as U Ne Win. His rule was characterized by isolationism, political violence, sinophobia, totalitarianism, economic collapse, and is credited with turning Burma into one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

Ne Win proceeded to totally trash the Nation. Free press was trashed, economy was trashed, the spirit to think freely was trashed, what remains of the Constitution was doubly trashed, and the Union of Myanmar, without a democratic and secular government, got totally trashed. Anybody who disagreed with him ended in prison for several years to say the least. Isolationist policy was put into effect to keep those who disagreed with him (like myself) out, and also to blind-side the recently Independent population to learn about what freedom is, and to be ignorant regarding the evolution of the rest of the planet. And to foster culture disorders as much as possible, so that he and his underlings might continue to misrule much easier.

Failed democracy became the norm. The nation got totally trashed. This kind of tragic governance went on for decades and as the people got hit harder by acute poverty, the government became more murderous in order to maintain control.  Read my article “Living a Life with Values, Part 1”; should be in the same social media page as this article. The paragraph below is adapted from Wikipedia.

The 8888 Nationwide Popular Pro-Democracy Protests (MLCTS: hrac le: lum:), also known as the 8-8-88 Uprisings, or the People Power Uprising, [6] the People’s Democracy Movement and the 1988 Uprising, were a series of nationwide protests, marches and civil unrest in Myanmar that peaked in August 1988. The 8888 uprising was started by students in Yangon (Rangoon) on 8 August 1988. Student protests spread throughout the country.  Hundreds of thousands of monks, children, university students, housewives, doctors and common people protested against the government. The uprising ended on 18 September after a bloody military coup by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Thousands of deaths have been attributed to the military during this uprising, while authorities in Myanmar put the figure at around 350 people killed. 

SLORC (very Orwellian) first major policy change was to dump socialistic economic policy overnight and exchange it with some kind of semi-free market approach. Very free marketing for the military generals and their cronies, and many of them becoming multi-millionaires, exploiting the natural resources of the country to the hilt for themselves, and maybe trickle down for the rest. Above the Law and below the Law (drug trafficking, gems smuggling, land and property grabbing, etc.) practices to their own gains were the rules of the day. However, to participate in international trading, the potential international trading partner countries demand adherence to meaningful international trading laws and regulations. Another demand to safe-guard the first demand, that was to re-establish a democratic form of civilian government that is serious about governing by the rule of law (meaning having Constitutional Laws), especially for international business trading purposes. Therein lies the problems that the mindset of the (mis)ruling rogue generals were highly challenged to adequately make adjustments as needed. They are faced with trade sanctions if they do not change with their overbearing ways of doing business.

General Than Shwe became the undisputed political and military head of state after Ne Win died in 2002. He needed to come up with an elected government system of some kind to overturn the trade sanctions imposed by economic superpowers, and at the request of Aung San Suu Kyi on the grounds that the country lacks human rights, etc. In 2008, he held a rigged referendum for the “approval and support of the people” for the new Constitution Laws he fabricated. Before delving into the merits or demerits of his new Constitutional laws, we need to discuss below of what Constitutional Laws are all about. 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

  • Constitutional law is a body of law which defines the role, powers, and structure of different entities within a state, namely, the executive, the parliament or legislature, and the judiciary; as well as the basic rights of citizens and, in federal countries such as the United States and Canada, the relationship between the central government and state, provincial, or territorial governments. 
  • Not all nation states have codified constitutions, though all such states have a just commune, or law of the land, that may consist of a variety of imperative and consensual rules. These may include customary law, conventions, statutory law, judge-made law, or international rules and norms. Constitutional law deals with the fundamental principles by which the government exercises its authority. In some instances, these principles grant specific powers to the government, such as the power to tax and spend for the welfare of the population. Other times, constitutional principles act to place limits on what the government can do, such as prohibiting the arrest of an individual without sufficient cause.
  • Further info Links: 
    1. State and legal structure
    2. Human rights  
    3. Legislative procedure
    4. Study of constitutional law
    5. The rule of law
    6. The separation of powers

Readers wishing for more details regarding the above subject matters, can explore the links that can be found in the Wiki. There are also many very good (some animated) YouTube videos: What is a Constitution? Why does the Constitution Matter? How are Constitutions made? Rule of Law etc.

The Union of Myanmar may be somewhat considered as a federal country like the United States or Canada because it is an amalgam of many states, and very importantly, with several different ethnic people within some of these states. Myanmar definitely is not a Confederation of States because none of these provincial states has sovereign independence. There are some people who get mixed up in their understanding of what Confederation (something like European Union) and Federation means. The Constitutional Laws of Myanmar essentially are for a Federal like State. There is no single country in the world that as a single state is a Confederation (Switzerland only on paper is a Confederation as codified about 300 years ago, but is presently, essentially a Federation). The United States went through a deadly Civil War in 1861 to suppress the formation of Southern Confederate States.

Not all nation states have codified constitutions, for example like the United Kingdom — Brits, a country with a long history of political evolution, has good laws for the powerful, very unforgiving laws for the underlings especially when it had an empire before. It is not easy to codify a credible caste system Constitution. Dictatorial states of unprogressive political evolution usually need no codified constitution. Their people have no say and are to obey as commanded. Otherwise life, limb and poverty threatening possibilities can become too real and too fast. That kind of government tends to exist in third world or lower achievement level countries especially with poor education standards. Today, with the internet, it is much more difficult to keep a population isolated, ignorant and unable to organize anti-government activities against bad government (think about what Ne Win in his times could do to the Myanmars). Then there are states that would like to appear progressive and modern by having good Constitutional Laws. For such countries, Constitution documents can usually be found in special glass showcases, but often not put to practice in the outside real world (see John F. Cady, American historian’s books, re. southeast Asia). 

For those countries which can manage economic well-being and are quite free for its people to travel abroad, even with a somewhat phony Constitution, or with a somewhat dysfunctional democracy, may not be a political issue as long as the people and its government somehow sufficiently get along with one another and the economy sufficiently flourishes. Then there are the superpowers who want to rule the planet. They would like other countries to believe that they value being very democratic, and that their Constitution principles are so very good, and need to be worshipped like Holy Cows. Maybe good on paper, but in order to dominate whenever deemed necessary, those “holy” documents are simply pushed aside and ignored as needed, and then proceed to murder thousands of those who refuse to kowtow, sometime even millions; no different from the Romans — the super power of two thousand years ago.

Disclaimer: All views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and Myanmar Insider assumes no responsibility or liability for publishing it.