Burmese leader was no socialist


Burmese leader was no socialist

By Myint Zan

In an article titled "The Last Fifty Years of Burmese Law: E Maung and Maung" (Law Asia, 1997), Andrew Huxley from London's School of African and Oriental Studies claims that the former president of Burma, Dr Maung Maung, "was sincere in both his life long socialism and his wish to reverse the most damaging changes wrought by the British".

The "Burmese Way to Socialism" practised from 1962 to 1988, in which Dr Maung Maung held many important judicial and political posts, was anything but socialist. Among other things, it legalised one-party rule, crushed all opposition and transformed the strong and independent judiciary of the 1940s to early 1960s into a tool of the ruling party. I was in Burma during the time of the so-called People's Judicial System and experienced first hand its injustices, capriciousness and corruption.

In 1956, Dr Maung Maung wrote, "The British brought the rule of law to Burma" and that "it is good". He also wrote, "It is unlikely that the rule of law which has become the foundation of justice in Burma will be rejected, or the British legal principles which have woven themselves firmly into the fabric of Burmese justice will be torn out just for spite".

Yet in 1972, when he "pioneered" the so-called People's Judicial System on the instruction of his boss, General Ne Win, he was attacking and denigrating those very same principles he had praised before 1962.

Dr Maung Maung's metamorphosis from a "left-wing social theorist" to a "party hack" legal ideologue was a painful disappointment.

In a broadcast in late August 1988, when a great mass of Burmese were demanding that the one-party government, of which he was temporary head and which had misruled the country continuously for 26 years, resign in favour of a neutral interim government prior to multi-party elections, Dr Maung Maung told the nation it was "constitutionally impossible" for his government to resign. Instead, he promised a referendum "in due course of law". He rhetorically asked the people,"Can't you wait just that much longer?".

The best defence against tyranny, it is said, is humour. For quite some time after Dr Maung Maung's speech, whenever groups of Burmese had to wait in long queues for provisions in government shops or for services in government offices, someone in the queue would start to say, "Can't you wait just that much longer?".

Dr Maung Maung has passed from the scene. However, the Burmese people's very long wait for basic rights and fundamental freedoms, which in general they enjoyed in the pre-1962 days, continues unabated.