Politics of Myanmar

This article is about the political structure in Myanmar (Burma). For the legislature, see Assembly of the Union.
This article is part of a series on the
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Myanmar (also known as Burma) is a unitary parliamentary republic under its current constitution.

Political conditions

Historically, Burma (Myanmar) was a monarchy ruled by various dynasties prior to the 19th century. The British colonized Burma (Myanmar) in the late 19th century, and it was under the jurisdiction of the British Raj until 1937.

Burma (Myanmar) was ruled as a British colony from 1885 until 1948. While the Bamar heartland was directly administered, first as a part of India and then, from 1937, as British Burma, ethnic regions outside the heartland were allowed some measure of self-rule along the lines of the Princely States of India. This led to split loyalties among the various ethnic groups to outside powers. Either to the British or Japanese. as well between the indigenous people in Burma. The dominant ethnic group in Burma are the Bamar, who make up approximately sixty-eight percent of the population. During World War II, many members of the Bamar ethnic group volunteered to fight alongside the Japanese in hopes of overthrowing the occupying British forces.

Meanwhile, many other ethnic groups supported the Allied forces in combating the Japanese and Burman forces. This conflict would come to be very significant in the aftermath of World War Two when Burma was granted its independence from Great Britain in 1948. By granting independence to Burma, the British government gave the new ruler, Aung San, control over areas that were not traditionally controlled by the Bamar. This conglomeration of formerly British-owned land created a state that is home to over twenty distinct minority ethnic groups.

From the time of the signing of the Burmese Constitution in 1948, ethnic minorities have been denied Constitutional rights, access to lands that were traditionally controlled by their peoples and participation in the government. The various minority ethnic groups have been consistently oppressed by the dominant Burman majority, but have also suffered at the hands of warlords and regional ethnic alliances. Religion also plays a role in the ethnic conflicts that have taken place. Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists all live in Burma. These religious differences have led to several incidents that have affected hundreds of thousands of citizens that live in Burma.

The SPDC had been responsible for the displacement of several hundred thousand citizens, both inside and outside of Burma. The Karen, Karenni, and Mon ethnic groups have been forced to seek asylum in neighbouring Thailand, where they are also abused by an unfriendly and unsympathetic government. These groups are perhaps more fortunate than the Wa and Shan ethnic groups who have become Internally Displaced Peoples in their own state since being removed from lands by the military junta in 2000. There are reportedly 600,000 of these Internally Displaced Peoples living in Burma today. Many are trying to escape forced labour in the military or for one of the many state-sponsored drug cartels. This displacement of peoples has led to both human rights violations as well as the exploitation of minority ethnic groups at the hands of the dominant Burman group. The primary actors in these ethnic struggles include but are not limited to the Government of Burma (junta), the Karen National Union and the Mong Tai Army.


Independence era

On 4 January 1948, Burma achieved independence from Britain, and became a democracy based on the parliamentary system.

On 19 July 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members. On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities.[1] The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.[2]

AFPFL/Union Government

In 1961, U Thant, the Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organisation and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years.[3] Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi.

Military socialist era

In 1962, General Ne Win led a coup d'état and established a nominally socialist military government that sought to follow the "Burmese Way to Socialism." The military expropriated private businesses and followed an economic policy of autarky, or economic isolation.

There were sporadic protests against military rule during the Ne Win years and these were almost always violently suppressed. On 7 July 1962, the government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon University, killing 15 students. In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.

SPDC era

The former Head of state was Senior General Than Shwe who held the title of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council." His appointed prime minister was Khin Nyunt until 19 October 2004, when he was forcibly deposed in favour of Gen. Soe Win. Almost all cabinet offices are held by military officers.

US and European government sanctions against the military government, combined with consumer boycotts and shareholder pressure organised by Free Burma activists, have succeeded in forcing most western corporations to withdraw from Burma. However, some western oil companies remain due to loopholes in the sanctions. For example, the French oil company Total S.A. and the American oil company Chevron continue to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) is the subject of a lawsuit in French and Belgian courts for alleged complicity in human rights abuses along the gas pipeline. Before it was acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a similar lawsuit for a reported multimillion-dollar amount.[4] Asian businesses, such as Daewoo, continue to invest in Burma, particularly in natural resource extraction.

The United States and European clothing and shoe industry became the target of Free Burma activists for buying from factories in Burma that were wholly or partly owned by the government or the military. Many stopped sourcing from Burma after protests, starting with Levi Strauss in 1992. From 1992 to 2003, Free Burma activists successfully forced dozens of clothing and shoe companies to stop sourcing from Burma. These companies included Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Macy's, J. Crew, JoS. A. Banks, Children's Place, Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart, and Target. The US government banned all imports from Burma as part of the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act" of 2003. Sanctions have been criticised for their adverse effects on the civilian population. However, Burmese democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly credited sanctions for putting pressure on the ruling military regime.[5][6]

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented egregious human rights abuses by the military government.[7] Civil liberties are severely restricted. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Burma about their human rights, claims that on 18 April 2007, several of its members were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local USDA Secretary U Nyunt Oo and beaten up. The HRDP believes that this attack was condoned by the authorities.

There is no independent judiciary in Burma[8] and the military government suppresses political activity. The government uses software-based filtering from US company Fortinet to limit the materials citizens can access on-line, including free email services, free web hosting and most political opposition and pro-democracy pages.[9]

In 2001, the government permitted NLD office branches to re-open throughout Burma. However, they were shut down or heavily restricted beginning 2004, as part of a government campaign to prohibit such activities. In 2006, many members resigned from NLD, citing harassment and pressure from the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) and the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

The military government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again on 31 May 2003, following an attack on her convoy in northern Burma by a mob reported to be in league with the military. The regime extended her house arrest for yet another year in late November 2005. Despite a direct appeal by Kofi Annan to Than Shwe and pressure from ASEAN, the Burmese government extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006.[10] She was released in 2010.[11]

The United Nations urged the country to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy, and full respect for human rights.[12] In December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Burma and calling for Aug San Suu Kyi's release—80 countries voting for the resolution, 25 against and 45 abstentions.[13] Other nations, such as China and Russia, have been less critical of the regime and prefer to co-operate on economic matters.[14][15]

Facing increasing international isolation, Burma's military government agreed to embark upon a programme of reform, including permitting multiple political parties to contest elections in 2010 and 2012 and the release of political prisoners. However, organisations such as Human Rights Watch allege continued human rights abuses in ongoing conflicts in border regions such as Kachin State.[16]

New constitution

Myanmar's army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved (by 92.4% of the 22 million voters with alleged voter turnout of 99%) on 10 May 2008 in the first phase of a two-stage referendum and Cyclone Nargis. It was the first national vote since the 1990 election. Multi-party elections in 2010 would end 5 decades of military rule, as the new charter gives the military an automatic 25% of seats in parliament. NLD spokesman Nyan Win, inter alia, criticised the referendum: "This referendum was full of cheating and fraud across the country. In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything".

2010 Election

An election was held in 2010, with 40 parties approved to contest the elections by the Electoral Commission.[17] some of which are linked to ethnic minorities.[18] The National League for Democracy, which overwhelmingly won the previous 1990 elections but were never allowed to take power, decided not to participate.

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party declared victory, winning 259 of the 330 contested seats. The United Nations and many Western countries have condemned the elections as fraudulent,[19] although the decision to hold elections was praised by China and Russia.[20][21]

2012 By Elections

In by-elections held in 2012, the main opposition party National League for Democracy, which was only re-registered for the by-elections on 13 December 2011 won in 43 of the 44 seats they contested (out of 46). Significantly, international observers were invited to monitor the elections, although the government was criticised for placing too many restrictions on election monitors,[22] some of whom were denied visas.[23]

The Union Solidarity and Development Party said it would lodge official complaints to the Union Election Commission on poll irregularities, voter intimidation, and purported campaign incidents that involved National League for Democracy members and supporters,[24] while the National League for Democracy also sent an official complaint to the commission, regarding ballots that had been tampered with.[25]

However, President Thein Sein remarked that the by-elections were conducted "in a very successful manner",[26] and many foreign countries have indicated willingness to lift or loosen sanctions on Burma and its military leaders.[27][28][29]

2015 Election

Myanmar general elections were held on 8 November 2015. These were the first openly contested elections held in Myanmar since 1990. The results gave the National League for Democracy an absolute majority of seats in both chambers of the national parliament, enough to ensure that its candidate would become president, while NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from the presidency.[30]

Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Htin Kyaw National League for Democracy 30 March 2016

The President is the head of state and head of government. He oversees the Cabinet of Myanmar.

Members of the Myanmar Cabinet During Htin Kyaw Administration

Office Name Party Term
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi NLD 6 April 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Aung Thu NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Border Affairs Ye Aung, Lt. Gen. Mil 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Commerce Than Myint NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Construction Win Khaing Ind 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Defence Sein Win, Lt. Gen. Mil 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Education Aung San Suu Kyi NLD 30 March 2016 6 April 2016
Myo Thein Gyi Ind 6 April 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Electric Power and Energy Aung San Suu Kyi NLD 30 March 2016 6 April 2016
Pe Zin Tun Ind 6 April 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Ethnic Affairs Naing Thet Lwin MNP 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Health Myint Htwe Ind 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Home Affairs Kyaw Swe, Lt. Gen. Mil 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Hotels and Tourism Ohn Maung Ind 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Industry Khin Maung Cho Ind 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Information Pe Myint Ind 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population Thein Swe USDP 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Ohn Win Ind 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Planning and Finance Kyaw Win NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Religious Affairs and Culture Aung Ko USDP 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of State Counsellor’s Office Kyaw Tint Swe Ind 17 May 2016 Incumbent
Minister of Transport and Communications Thant Sin Maung NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Minister of the President's Office Aung San Suu Kyi NLD 30 March 2016 Incumbent
Union Auditor General Maw Than Ind 6 April 2016 Incumbent
Union Attorney-General Htun Htun Oo Ind 6 April 2016 Incumbent

Legislative branch

Under the 2008 Constitution the legislative power of the Union is shared among the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, State and Region Hluttaws.[31] The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw consists of the People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) elected on the basis of township as well as population, and the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw) with on an equal number of representatives elected from Regions and States.[32][33] The People's Assembly consists of 440 representatives, with 110 being military personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.[34] The House of Nationalities consists of 224 representatives with 56 being military personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services.[35]

Judicial system

Burma's judicial system is limited. British-era laws and legal systems remain much intact, but there is no guarantee of a fair public trial. The judiciary is not independent of the executive branch.[8] Burma does not accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction. The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is Tun Tun Oo, and Attorney General is Tun Tun Oo.

Wareru dhammathat

Wareru dhammathat or the Manu dhammathat (မနုဓမ္မသတ်) was the earliest law-book in Burma. It consists of laws ascribed to the ancient Indian sage, Manu, and brought to Burma by Hindu colonists. The collection was made at Wareru’s command, by monks from the writings of earlier Mon scholars preserved in the monasteries of his kingdom. (Wareru seized Martaban in 1281 and obtained the recognition of China as the ruler of Lower Burma and founded a kingdom which lasted until 1539. Martaban was its first capital, and remained so until 1369. It stretched southwards as far as Tenasserim.)[36]

Dhammazedi pyatton

Mon King Dhammazedi (1472–92) was the greatest of the Mon rulers of Wareru’s line. He was famous for his wisdom and the collection of his rulings were recorded in the Kalyani stone inscriptions and known as the Dammazedi pyatton.[37]

Administrative divisions

Burma is divided into seven regions (previously called divisions) divisions (taing) and seven states (pyi-nè), classified by ethnic composition. The seven regions are Ayeyarwady Region, Bago Division, Magway Division, Mandalay Division, Sagaing Division, Tanintharyi Division and Yangon Division; the seven states are Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin State, Kayah State, Mon State, Rakhine State and Shan State. There are also five Self-administrated zones and a Self-administrated Division "for National races with suitable population"[38]

Within the Sagain Region

Within the Shan State

International organisation participation



  1. "The Constitution of the Union of Burma". DVB. 1947. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2006.
  2. Smith, Martin (1991). Burma -Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. London and New Jersey: Zed Books. pp. 42–43.
  3. Aung Zaw. "Can Another Asian Fill U Thant's Shoes?". The Irrawaddy Sep 2006. Retrieved 12 September 2006.
  4. Horsley, William (20 October 2004). "Dilemma of dealing with Burma". BBC News. Retrieved 2 November 2004.
  5. Hiatt, Fred (23 June 2003). "How Best to Rid the World of Monsters". Washington Post. Retrieved 24 May 2006.
  6. "Reuters Belgian group seeks Total boycott over Myanmar". Ibiblio. Reuters. 10 May 1999. Retrieved 24 June 2006.
  7. "Active Citizens under Political Wraps: Experiences from Burma and Vietnam". Heinrich Böll Foundation.
  8. 1 2 Ross, James (20 March 2012). "Burma's push for freedom is held back by its institutionally corrupt courts". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  9. "Internet Filtering in Burma in 2005: A Country Study". OpenNet Initiative.
  10. The Irrawaddy (27 May 2006). "Suu Kyi's Detention Extended, Supporters likely to Protest". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 27 May 2006.
  11. Ba Kaung (13 November 2010). "Suu Kyi Freed at Last". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
  12. UN Secretary Repeats Call for Release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi 27 May 2007.
  13. UN General Assembly condemns Myanmar. Taipei Times. 26 December 2008
  14. Myanmar breaks own law holding Suu Kyi: UN panel. Daily Times of Pakistan. 25 March 2009
  15. "China calls for all Myanmar sanctions to go after poll". Reuters. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  16. Pittman, Todd (20 March 2012). "Abuses in Burma Despite Reforms". TIME. Associated Press. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  17. Buncombe, Andrew (23 June 2010). "Burma bans marching and chanting during rallies". The Independent. London.
  18. Suu Kyi party splits, faction to run in Myanmar poll. Reuters. 7 May 2010
  19. Andrew Marshall (11 April 2011). "The Slow Thaw of Burma's Notorious Military Junta". Times. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  20. Reuters in Rangoon (9 November 2010). "Burmese election won by military-backed party". London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
  21. "China praises much-criticised Myanmar election". My Sinchew. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
  22. "Myanmar Election Observation Encouraging But Inadequate". Asian Network for Free Elections. Bangkok. Retrieved 24 March 2012. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  23. Hindstrom, Hanna (30 March 2012). "Australian monitors denied visas ahead of polls". Democratic Voice of Burma. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  24. "Myanmar ruling party claims poll irregularities". Agence France-Presse. InterAksyon.com. 6 April 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  25. Ko Pauk (1 April 2012). "NLD files official complaint against ballot tampering". Mizzima. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  26. "Myanmar leader praises by-elections that put Suu Kyi in office as 'successful'". Associated Press. 6 April 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  27. Ramesh, S (5 April 2012). "Singapore welcomes Myanmar's progress: PM". Today. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  28. Murdoch, Lindsay (5 April 2012). "ASEAN leaders call for sanctions on Burma to be lifted". The Age. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  29. "EU likely to further eased sanctions on Myanmar : spokeswoman". Deutsche Presse Agentur. 3 April 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
  30. "Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Wins Majority in Myanmar". BBC News. 13 November 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  31. Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 12(a)
  32. Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 12(b)
  33. Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 74
  34. Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 109
  35. Constitution of Myanmar, Chapter 1, Article 141
  36. BURMA, D. G . E. HALL, M.A., D.LIT., F.R.HIST.S., Professor Emeritus of the University of London and formerly Professor of History in the University of Rangoon, Burma.Third edition 1960. Page 34
  37. BURMA, D. G . E. HALL, M.A., D.LIT., F.R.HIST.S. Professor Emeritus of the University of London and formerly Professor of History in the University of Rangoon, Burma. Third edition 1960. Page 35-36
  38. New administrative map of Burma page 2 of the Burma Policy Briefing by the Transnational Institute

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