myanmar shadow government

Written by Mahrukh Khalid Siddiqui 12:00 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Published Content

Myanmar’s Shadow Government: In the Name of Democracy

Composed of the opposition, the shadow government provides feedback and criticism on the policies supported by the ruling party. Myanmar has witnessed completely distinct shadow governments—from the military junta to the NLD—throughout its history. Even now, there is a shadow government; the National Unity Government is one that is displaying its resistance to the military rule of the country.
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Ms Mahrukh Khalid Siddiqui graduated with a degree in Social Sciences with a major in Development Studies from Bahria University Islamabad. She is currently working as a Technical Associate in the Government Affairs Department of Siemens Pakistan.

What is a Shadow Government?

A shadow government, or a shadow cabinet, is a group of senior experts or political figures who provide constructive criticism on the policies and decision making implemented by the ruling government. This concept mainly exists for the purpose of keeping the government in ruling conscious of their roles and makes way for more efficient and relevant policy-making and implementation.

According to some sources, this type of government is also allowed to take charge in the scenario that a state of emergency ensues. In most cases, however, the opposition party which constitutes the shadow cabinet is the competing party in the elections held and thus the criticism presented may be biased in hopes to convince the population to bring them to power instead.

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The Shadow Governments in Myanmar

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar which was formerly as well as internationally also known as Burma is a country in Southeast Asia. Myanmar has been through a series of transitions in its history from being ruled by Japan to being colonized by the British. This might explain many of the conflicting issues prevalent in Myanmar.

Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948. Following its independence, Burma was governed as a democracy based on the parliamentary system as practised by the British. However, the first constitution was introduced in January 1974. In September 1988, the government was suspended due to a military coup, leaving the country to be ruled by a military junta.

It was at this point that Burma was newly introduced as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the capital city’s name was changed from Rangoon to Yangon. The military junta locally known as Tatmadaw (the then shadow government of Myanmar) that came to power was originally first known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and then the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). This government took place for 14 years from the year 1997 till 2011.

The purpose of the occurrence of the military coup and the transition of names was to completely free Myanmar from the shackles of a post-colonial style of ruling and an effort to emphasize their own identity as well as introduce their own form of government and democracy. Despite these events, the struggle to reach a satisfactory state of affairs continues to this day.

Shadow Governments Strike Once Again

Due to the growing civil war, isolation from global affairs, and widespread poverty, the rule under the military junta was dissolved by the leader of the institute himself, Than Shwe, in 2011. Just a day or two after that, Thein Sein, a former general who had previously served as prime minister since 2007, was elected as President of Myanmar by the members of the legislature. Hence, Thein Sein assumed constitutional executive authority in the country.

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During his tenure, a series of policies were relaxed like press restrictions, releasing of thousands of political prisoners, the introduction of new laws regarding peaceful demonstrations and formation of unions etcetera. Most importantly, his civilian government led to the relaxation in the previous restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi, a well-known political figure who stood for democracy and the daughter of Burma’s leading independence figure, General Aung San, who was under house arrest for multiple allegations probably in an attempt to suppress her agenda.

After her release, Aung San Suu Kyi took leadership of the opposition party (the then shadow government of Myanmar), the National League for Democracy (NLD). Thein Sein lost power to Aung San Suu Kyi in the parliamentary elections held in November 2015. However, she was once again accused of not being able to control the rape and murder taking place against Muslims in Rohingya and the genocide that occurred in 2017.

Although NLD won the 2020 elections, rumours began to spread regarding the authenticity of the results, claiming they might be flawed. The population was concerned because of the growing issues in Rohingya and many other parts of Myanmar. Suu Kyi was not successful in overcoming many of the issues as promised and her victory was questioned. So, history repeated itself as another military coup took place in February 2021 by the military junta once again.

The New Shadow Government in Myanmar

Preceding the military coup, Suu Kyi and many other political figures were put under house arrest, and the National Unity Government (NUG) formed the new shadow government in Myanmar. The Acting President of NUG, Duwa Lashi La, prompted increased military security in the capital city, Yangon as well as widespread opposition. Protests and strikes took place in resistance to military rule alongside the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) which led to a conflict and killings of 1,000 citizens.

Duwa Lashi La had assigned the People’s Defense Force, the shadow government’s armed wing, to target the Tatmadaw in their respective areas while protecting the lives and properties of the people. However, this clearly hasn’t been the case. The greatest victims of this opposition have been the rural areas of Myanmar as government troops and ethnic armed organizations have engaged in sustained fighting. There have also been reports of regular airstrikes and multitudes of displaced villagers.

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Unrest continues to ensue in Myanmar as well as the struggle to achieve peace. According to analysts, more conflicts and violence are expected to take place. According to Tun-Aung Shwe, NUG’s representative to the Commonwealth of Australia, I am expecting to see a well-coordinated, well-organized people revolution to the military junta and targeted attacks to the military and its pillars, including military communication and supply lines and security posts and also to see defections among the military personnel.”

So, who knows what will become of Myanmar at this point. NUG claims to be helping its citizens just as how other political figures experimented during their tenures in hopes to reach a form of government that suited their fancy. We have yet to comprehend whether or not Myanmar will be able to achieve democracy as the voices of the people are drowned by these military groups.

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