Thursday, September 27, 2007

Myanmar Protests

I wonder if this is not the beginning of the end of Myanmar's military government. The protests racking the country for the last week are both about immediate economic problems, but also decades of dissatisfaction with the military regime. The army is cracking down but so far has not been effective in dispersing the protests. The key here obviously rests with the army. How disciplined is the army? Will they continue to kill their own people? Or is there enough sentiment among lower-ranking officers and average soldiers that change is needed? We should find this out in the next few days. I think it could go either way.

I would feel more comfortable if Than Shwe was off the scene. Than Shwe is the worst kind of corrupt, brutal junta leader. He personally hates Aung San Suu Kyi. Word is that there is a significantly sympathy growing within the junta for moderation, but Than Shwe won't hear of it. His nation was just listed as one of the two most corrupt nations in the world (along with Somalia). He's older and in bad health, so this could be his last hurrah.

Of course, monks leading the protests make a big difference. Brian McCartan provides a great overview of the historical actions of Burmese monks in leading protests. Buddhism is strong in Myanmar and monks play a major role in everyday life. Men are supposed to serve as monks for at least a portion of their lives. Most don't stay in the monasteries long, but all monks receive significant respect. It's harder for the military government with monks leading the protests. They are trying to use brute force to arrest and kill monks, but this is not helping them with the general population, nor is the on-going economic problems and rampant corruption.

It's possible that the military restores order and Than Shwe serves out the rest of the miserable days in power, but those days are short. I suspect we will see some kind of limited change, though with the military still in some kind of power, in the next few years if not now.