Htuu Lou Rae, a member of the Anti-Junta Mass Movement (AJMM) anti-coup movement in Myanmar, spoke to us.
The strike has been rekindled. There has been less activity in the streets for the past few weeks and much less so in Yangon; but since last week there have been flashmob protests in Yangon, and thousands across the country returned to the street for a general strike on 2 May to the call for “Global Myanmar Spring Revolution”. Up until last week, most of the activities in the civilian areas, cities, towns and villages, have taken the form of armed struggle, fighting Tatmadaw troops with makeshift weapons and homemade rifles. There is a town in the Western Chin State, Mindat, which has successfully fended off Tatmadaw troops, and the soldiers had to negotiate a ceasefire with the residents. But now they are worried that there could be air strikes in Mindatand in towns and villages in the region. People are worried about another genocide, and crimes against humanity.
AJMM is a strike committee which called some of the first protests on 6 February. The first street march consisted of workers’ unions including CTUM [Confederation of Trade Unions, Myanmar] and others, students’ unions, the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), a social-democratic party. Other left-wing groups also participated, alongside ethnic minority organisations. AJMM consists of these organisations: unions, student unions, leftist groups, and groups working for ethnic minority rights.
The anti-coup “shadow government” of the CRPH [Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, i.e. representing parliamentarians] has launched a “National Unity Government”, with its own democratic charter which gives them a final say in appointment of cabinet members. The national unity government is mainly made up of NLD [National League for Democracy] representatives. The policies of the NLD tend towards being neoliberal, even though many of their supporters are not supportive of neoliberalism. NLD are now trying to make themselves look inclusive in terms of ethnicity and class and so on. But it is not really representative, because the elections that took place in November 2020 were held under the 2008 constitution, which is not good as a basis for a democratic government. It is a half-military-dictatorship-half-democratic-government. Before the coup, the NLD was authoritarian. They introduced laws that prevented freedom of speech and assembly. There were 600 political prisoners before the coup. The elections were not free or fully fair. In over 70% of Rakhine state no elections were held. The same goes for Shan state in the east. So many people like to call CRPH democratically-elected or legitimate but that is not true, because of the nature of the 2020 elections.
The democratic charter which has been drafted by the CRPH in consultation with the National Unity Consultation Committee, in the section on citizens’ rights, sets out different rights depending on whether a citizen is a member of a Taing-yan-thar, or “indigenous” ethnic group, which claims Myanmar as their homeland. So many people, especially Rohingya, are worried because there is no proper definition of who belongs to a Taing-yan-thar ethnic group. Different tiers of citizenship is an idea that is worrying many people. Indians and Chinese born in Myanmar were once classed as Taing-yan-thar, but they have been removed from some more recent lists of Taing-yan-thar ethnic groups.
The second part of the charter suggests that the parliament has to be formed in accordance with the November 2020 election results, meaning that most seats will go to NLD MPs, and these MPs will have most rights in terms of electing members of the cabinet.
There’s another problem which is that the National Unity Consultation Committee (NUCC) has not been fully formed yet, and there is no list of its members. And so if there has been no consultation committee, how can there by a national unity government yet? It makes no sense. According to the charter, the cabinet is to be filled in consultation with NUCC. And the charter was also supposed to be drafted in consultation with NUCC. And also in the charter it is said that in order to be part of the NUCC, a group or a member has to agree with the charter. It doesn’t make sense on many levels. CRPH has not issued any clarification with regards to these discrepancies.
From day one, the CRPH has mainly been issuing statements. Clearly they are an important actor in the revolution, but in a way their role has been the easiest. The members of strike committees and the leaders of CDM have been risking their lives on street demonstrations and going through hard times, relying on donations. Members of ethnic armed groups have been in combat with the Tatmadaw. But CRPH has been based in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups, issuing statements and holding Zoom meetings. It’s unfair, because while they were elected, the election was not democratic. NLD was authoritarian. It’s unfair because most of the members of organisations which have been carrying the revolution have been excluded from the government. NLD seem more concerned with holding onto power than sharing power.
Could the revolution take on the character of the Syrian civil war? No, because Tatmadaw doesn’t have so many troops. I am confident that we can force more defections through a combination of street protests, militia activity and activity by ethnic armed groups. The challenge that we have right now is that we could potentially form a council of CDM [Civil Disobedience Movement] strikers, strike committees, militias and ethnic armed groups, and follow a common strategy to try to overload the capacity of Tatmadaw and force more defections. We haven’t achieved that point yet but that is what we are aiming for. Even though we can finally succeed in taking Tatmadaw out of the picture, there is another issue. Since the government is currently made up of NLD members, it threatens to create a neoliberal, Bama-centric government. That doesn’t fit well with the federal democratic government that we have all agreed is the goal of the revolution. The reason why it has been difficult to create a body that could coordinate different actors of the revolution is that CRPH and NLD have not wanted to be cooperative in terms of making the federal democracy more federal, and being more inclusive. We would do better, make things easier, if we listened to each other, and committed to being more inclusive. CRPH and NLD are part of the problem.
There are three very contentious members of the National Unity Government (NUG). One member of the NUG, who was previously an NLD politician, has in the past gone on a BBC interview to accuse Rohingya people of burning their own houses. Since taking up office he has been bombarded on social media with demands to apologise for his comments. Another, the Vice-Minister of Defence, has described Rohingya as insects, comparing the ethnic cleansing operations against them as like spraying crops with insecticide. So far: no apology from her, either. A third member of the NUG government is Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK), who prepared this Thermidor, and who has given great accolades and medals to soldiers and generals. There have been calls for ASSK to be removed from NUG. That hasn’t been addressed. On 3 May, NUG introduced the Ministry of Human Rights. This move has been questioned: how can they set up a ministry of human rights and keep these three members?