ဗမာႏိုင္ငံ ဒီမုိကေရစ႘ ပုံစံ
Burma and Consensus Model Form of Democracy
Ramarn G. Pyah
On the word of Aristotle man is by nature political animal. A man always forms a group, and the smallest group of a man is a family then a community and a state. Men create rules based on their beliefs in order to control its members in a community or state. A good rule or system will lead to a good result that can produce peace and equilibrium to a community or nation while a bad institution, on the other hand, will generate undesirable outcome which will cause imbalance and conflict. Let us focus on Switzerland and Burma or Myanmar which both several cleavages but different political systems. Switzerland is a democratic county; however, Burma is on the way to democracy.
What is democracy? A democracy is “the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government through electing representatives of the people and by the people.” In a democratic system every individual is granted “the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right of political leaders to compete for support and votes, freedom of association and expression, alternative sources of information and institutions for making public policies base on votes and other expressions of preference.”
A democracy can be run and defined in many ways. A democracy is a system that a majority rules a minority (majoritarian), it can be a practice of majority should rule and a minority should oppose like the British Westminster model; or, a democracy is a government not only by but also for the people, as American President Abraham Lincoln claimed. However, Arend Lijphart, 1999 defined two forms of democracies in his popular book, “Pattern of Democracy, and there are two forms of democracies in thirty-six countries in this world know as Westminster model and a consensus model. Westminster model is the British democratic system that excludes the losing party, a minority, in the decision-making process. It is majoritarian rule, which claim that the majority should rule and the minority should oppose (government by the majority of the people). British, New Zealand, Barbados, Canada, Australia, former British colonies in Asia, Africa and Caribbean have the Westminster model form of democracy.
There are ten characteristics in the Westminster model. It has concentration of executive power in single-party , cabinet dominance, two-party system, a majoritarian and disproportional system of election, interest group pluralism, a unitary and centralized form of government, a concentration legislative power in a unicameral legislature, constitutional flexibility, absence of judicial review and central bank controlled by the executive. Therefore, the Westminster model is appropriate for a country, which only has disagreement on socioeconomic issues due to a division among classes- working, middle and upper classes, but does not has cleavages among race, religion and ethnic groups. British, New Zealand, Barbados, Canada, Australia, former British colonies in Asia, Africa and Caribbean have the Westminster model form of democracy.
Another form of democracy is a consensus model, which includes the losing party or minority in the decision-making process. In contrast to Westminster model, a consensus model form of democracy has executive power sharing in broad coalition, executive-legislative balance of power, multi-party system, proportional representation, interest group corporatism, federal and decentralized government, strong bicameralism, constitutional rigidity, judicial review and a central bank independent. Due to it’s executive power sharing in a broad coalition, executive-legislative balance of power, multi-party system, proportional representation, federal and decentralized form of government and strong bicameralism, a consensus model form of democracy fits to a nation that has both racial cleavages and socio-economic issues. Switzerland, Belgium and European Union have a consensus model of democracy.
Switzerland is a plural society. It has religious cleavages, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Christianity. Such religious cleavages give rise to multi-party system, Christian Democrat, Social Democrat and Radical Democrat. Switzerland has a federal and decentralized form government and the state power is divided between the central government and the local governments in twenty cantons and six half-cantons. Switzerland parliament consists of two houses, the upper house and the lower house (Bicameralism). The members of the upper house or Council of State were elected from twenty cantons, two representatives from each canton. The lower house or National Council represents the Swiss people while the upper house stands for the twenty cantons.
Burma is a plural society. It consists of seven divisions and seven states. It has eight major ethnic groups Burmese, Mon, Shan, Araken, Chin, Kachin, Karen, and Kayah, and they are ethnically, linguistically, ideologically and culturally divided. When Burma gained its independence from the British in 1948, Burmese leader installed a centralized one-party system government. Therefore, non-Burman groups took up arms and fought against the Burman-dominated government in 1947 before gaining independence from the British in 1948 because they wanted racial equality and their national self-determination.
Why does a transition of a democracy in Burma take too long? What are the roots causes of a democratic transition? In order to understand such political dilemmas, we need to study Burmese history, pre-colonial and pre-independence. We also have to examine how Burmese nationalists and socialist likes the late General Aung San, the Burmese dictator General Ne Win want the Burma to be. Burmese political dilemma can be explained by four different features, a forced unification of Burma by the Burmese leaders, the British divide and rule system, a nationalist and socialist leader like General Aung San and Stalinist General Ne Win.
Forced unification _ When they became strong, the Burmese leader always annexed its neighboring counties like Shan Plateau, Mon Land and Arakan land by force. In 1784, the Burmese leader Bo Daw Maung occupied Araken State by military force. Burmese aggressive leader Aung Zaya invaded the Mon land which is the lower part of Burma in 1757. In order to eliminate the Mon history, the Burmese leader conducted genocidal operation, killing thousands innocent Mon people, slaying thousands of Mon Buddhist learned monks and burning down Mon scriptures. The Mon, the Araken as well as the Shan still deny that they are part of Burma; therefore, they are struggling to gain their national self-determination.
British divide and rule system_ Burma completely fell under British colonial rule after the Third-Burmese Anglo war in (1885). According to Josef Silverstein, within the 122 years of British rule (1826-1948), Burma traditional ideas and attitude about power, authority were totally replaced by new values under the strong and the determined British secular’s rulers. The British separated the State from religion by rejecting Buddhist-based laws, rules, and decree and replacing them with Judeo-Christian ideas and values, and British customary law. Burma Buddhist kings are likely to exemplify the “ten royal virtues” (dasarajadhama). They suppose to have generosity, moral virtue, self-sacrifice, kindness, self-control, non-anger, nonviolence, patience, and righteousness. The British replaced the God-king with Secular Government by dethroning Burmese King, Thi Paw and replaced foreign governor under colonial rule instead. British replaced western liberal ideas in place of Buddhist-base laws, rules and decree by allowing new Burmese elite learned political ideas in school, via foreign literature, and local literature. Finally, in order to deepen and widen the physical and cultural divides among Burmese indigenous people, the British separated ministerial Burma from the Hill areas, for instance, the Shan Federal State in 1922.
Nationalist and socialist leader_ “A democracy is a system of colonizer.” This is the view of Burmese nationalist and socialist leaders, for instance, General Aung San who studies the writing of Karl Marx, Vladimir IIych Lenin, Josef Stalin, George Barnard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Many Burmese young leaders in the age of 1930s including national hero General Aung San had no interest in promoting democracy and constructing a federal state. Burmese national hero general Aung San was a nationalist and a socialist. In 1941 General Aung San wrote, “What we want is a strong state administration, as exemplified in Germany and Italy. There shall be only one nation, one state, one party, one leader. There shall be no parliamentary opposition, on nonsense of individualism.” Aung San also laid down his ideas of “Burmese democracy” and that is to nationalize the means of production, to provide workers’ rights and social insurance and to establish judicial system.
Such writing had clearly sent a message to all non-Burma ethnics that General Aung San had no intention to promote democracy and to construct a federal state which would grant racial equality and national-self determination to the non-Burma people. Therefore, since gaining an independence from the British in 1948, the Burma had been faced with political instabilities, armed conflict between the non-Burman ethnic groups that proposed to form a federal state and the Burmese leaders who wanted Burma to be a unitary state. Civil wars broke out for 50 years, and it killed thousands of soldiers and civilians.
In 1988, a student-led pro-democracy uprising broke out, demanding to a democratic form of government. The demonstration forced a dictator General Ne Win to resign from power, and the military known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) controlled the state power instead. SPDC promised to hold election according to a democratic rule then general election was held in 1990 May 27. In the election, National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Su Kyi won 82 percent of votes. Instead of handed the state power over to the winning party (NLD), the SPDC detained NLD’s leaders and responded with rallying cries as “ Oppose ax handles who rely on external elements, act as stooges hand hold negative views.”
The intention of the Burmese leaders including national hero General Aung San, a dictator General Ne Win and the current repressive regime to construct Burma as a unitary state is totally an error and it contributes to the 50 years long civil war between ethnic resistant groups and the Burmese military. It gives rise to the anti-government movements, pro-democracy uprisings in which thousands of students were shot to death while thousands were jailed without trail. It also generates economic hardship that forced millions people have to flee into Thailand, Malaysia while millions have to stay under United Nations assistances.
Stalinist dictatorship, General Ne Win and Burmese successive regime_ According to Bernard (1996) Stalinism, which undermines all self-organized forms of intermediate public organization is the root cause of un-civil society in Soviet.
There are two reasons (atomization, strong tie), which cause discourteous society in Russia. Bahry and Silver stated that totalitarianism undermines civil society by means of atomization, which produces mistrustfulness and isolation among the people so it is easy for dictator to control its people. Mondak and Gearing, emphasize that people need to interact each other in order to reach their common good and to build a civil society. Another reason is “Strong tie,” which means the atomization of small group, not an individual. Such atomization also generates mistrustfulness and separation among small groups contributes to the decline of civil society. Granovetter argued that any government which attempt to make democratic transition need a “weak-tie” society because such society encourage the people to participate in the This excerpt is very good because free expression and free association are essential components of democracy and in a trust-building process and only in a “weak-tie” society can produce such expression and free association while “strong-tie” society can not.
Similarly, in 1962, Ne Win took over state power through coup d’état from the democratic elected Premier U Nu formed a unitary state with Burmese Socialist Program Party
(BSPP). In 1974, instead of offering national self-determination to the indigenous people like Mon, Arakan, Shan, dictator Ne Win created Mon, State, Arakan State, Karen State. Furthermore, the successive Burmese regime divided indigenous people into 135 different groups so it is easy for the government to control it people. By doing so Burma becomes “strong tie” society as if in Soviet; therefore, the people less interact to each other in order to reach common good and build a society.
In order to end armed conflicts, avoid mass uprising, to eliminate mistrust among each other and to create economic growth for a good living for the Burmese citizens, the Burmese repressive regime should install a democracy and form a federal state rather than a unitary state.
Of the two forms of democracy, Westminster and consensus models, I would strongly propose a consensus model form of democracy to Burma, a nation with plural society, which has racial, linguistic, cultural and ideological cleavages. Consensus model form of democracy that has a federal and decentralized form of government, multi-party system, bicameral legislature and proportional representation
If Burma has multi-party system, it will grant racial equality to all ethnic groups in Burma. The two party-system of Westminster model is appropriate for a country or any country which only has disagreement on socioeconomic issues due to a division among classes- working, middle and upper classes, but doesn’t has cleavages among race, religion and ethnic groups.
The two-party system offers voters a clear choice between two alternative sets of public policies, and they have to compete for swing voters in the center of political spectrum. For example, the Labor party and Conservative party in England and Republican and Democratic party in the United States. The swing voters do not vote for the party but the party policy which is best to country. However, neither a single party nor a two party-systems, is appropriate for a country or any country like Burma, which has both cleavages among race, religion, speaking language, ethnic background and socioeconomic issues.
Burma has eight ethnic nationalities, known as Burmese (majority), Mon, Karen, Kachin, Shan, Araken, Kayar and Karen. Except Burmese (majority), every ethnic want to have a political party which is able to work on their behalf. Every ethnic party would have a right to make policy that will benefit to their people.
If Burma has a federal and decentralized form of government, the ethnic minorities would get political equalities. Since Burma gains its independence from British in 1948, the majority, Burmese sets up a unitary and centralized form of government with their ethnocentric rule. That is the root cause of the 56 years long civil war between Burmese dominant government and ethnic resistance groups and such war will keep on going unless Burma has a federal and decentralized form of government. Under a federal and decentralized government, state powers are divided between the central government and local governments. A central government would hold major power like military, currency, foreign affair and trade while the local government should have the power to freedom of education, religion, taxation, transportation, media and press….
Bicameral legislature _ Burma is plural society and the majority people are Burmese. In most democratic country, it needs only 50+1 votes in order to pass bills or legislatures. So, without the upper house, which is differently elected but has power as mush as lower as if Switzerland, it is very easy for Burmese majority to pass legislature according to their will. Burma parliament should consist of two houses with equal legislative power, the upper house and the lower house. Like selecting the senate in the US, Burma upper house member should be selected from each ethnic group with equal numbers. So, the upper house can control majority Burmese people not to pass legislation according to their wills. Members’ of Burma lower house should be proportionally selected.
In conclusion, only a consensus model form of democracy will grant equalities in race, religion, and culture to every ethnic group and no ethnic group will be excluded from decision-marking process. The fundamental meaning of democracy is that “all who are affected by a decision should have a chance to participate in the decision-making process,” Sir Arthur Lewis.
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