In this webinar, Dr Nick Cheesman and Professor Melissa Crouch discussed Myanmar’s political and social crisis in the context of the state of terror and loathing of “national politics” in Myanmar, and the constitutional implications of the February 1 coup.
MYANMAR STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Friday, 9 April 2021 – Over two months after the military seized power in Myanmar, the ISEAS Myanmar Studies Programme convened a second webinar analysing the impact of the 1 February 2021 military coup, inviting Australian academics Dr Nick Cheesman (Australian National University) and Professor Melissa Crouch (University of New South Wales) to share their insights. The webinar, moderated by Ms Moe Thuzar, co-coordinator of the ISEAS Myanmar Studies Programme, attracted the interest of 186 attendees.
This webinar discussed Myanmar’s political and social crisis in the context of the state of terror and loathing of “national politics” in Myanmar, and the constitutional implications of the Feb 1 coup. Insights shared by the speakers indicate the high stakes for both protestors and oppressors. Key discussions points include the following:
- The ongoing violence in a country like Myanmar where a violence-specialising military is acting with impunity is due to the military’s effective use of frontal/spectacular violence. In fact, state terror in Myanmar has continued over the decades since Burma gained independence in 1948; examples of this can be found in the recurring operations against the Rohingya in Rakhine, and the armed conflict between the military and ethnic armed organisations.
- The practice of state terror and torture in Myanmar, and the use of military tribunals, provide the context and background to the current crisis in Myanmar.
- The three basic elements of state terror were: immobilisation of bodies; confinement of bodies; and sorting or classification of bodies.
- In Myanmar, immobilisation occurred foremost through the targeted killings of protesters as well as people who were not significant participants in protests. At the time of the webinar, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) had confirmed 600 deaths, but the actual number could be far higher, as many were missing, presumably dead. Also, people who are captured and held, and immobilised through physical violence and torture (which is essential to the program of immobilisation. Torture occurred within the context of confinement in prisons or camps; once confined in camps, the possibility to exit/escape was low. There was also an administrative sorting (of detainees) into other locations, including releasing those who are deemed “harmless”. Yet, these releases are part of the programme of state terror and not concessions.
- In early April, anti-coup protestors across Myanmar had burned physical copies of the 2008 constitution, after the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) called for abolishing the 2008 constitution and introduced an interim charter outlining the vision for a federal democracy.
- The 2008 constitution (which had been drafted and approved in a process orchestrated by the military), was part of a strategy of ‘preemptive constitution-making’ (i.e. to pre-empt the emergence of a democratic system after the 1990 elections in Myanmar). The 2008 constitution thus strengthened “authoritarian resilience” and pre-empted democratic practices by its provisions stacked in favour of the military, including lack of decentralised rule.
- The use of alternative constitution-making by those who oppose military rule has been a common feature of the past, starting with the 1947 constitution prior to Burma’s regaining independence from the British, then the federal proposals in 1961, to the drafts in the mid-2000s borrowing from the 1961 aspirations for a federal state. The CRPH has drawn upon these past ‘constitutional touchstones’ to propose a different future for the people of Myanmar.
- Calls for abolishing the 2008 constitution thus indicated the desire to move on and forward, rather than return to the political system that existed prior to the February 1 coup.
- The CRPH’s federal democracy charter highlights several unsettled debates on constitutional reform in Myanmar:
- Federal democracy (deliberately not mentioned in the 2008 constitution).
- Power by states to legislate.
- Return to President and Prime Minister as in 1947 Constitution.
- Separation between religion and politics (secular state), as the special role accorded to Buddhism in the 1947 and 2008 constitutions has been contested by the ethnic nationalities.
- The military typically viewed the CRPH’s move as a threat. In March 2021, the military had claimed that CRPH had committed high treason, and also denounced individuals collaborating with CRPH.