Myanmar History and Politics

Myanmar History and Politics

Early settlement

The area of ‚Äč‚Äčtoday’s Myanmar has been settled by several tribes for many thousands of years. The Burmese emerged from the Indo-Chinese peoples and founded an empire on the longest river Ayeyarwady in the 1st century AD. In the 3rd century, the Khmer Kingdom emerged in the area.

In the 9th century the predominant ethnic group of the Pyu was weakened by the so-called Nanzhao. This allowed Burmese to immigrate. In the middle of the 9th century they founded the city of Bagan. Parts of this historic city are still preserved today and can be visited. In the 16th century the Taungu and from the 18th century the Konbaung dynasty ruled.

Colonial rule and independence

Between 1885 and 1948 the British exercised their colonial rule over what was then Burma, this rule being limited to the heartland and not including the minorities living in the border areas. These areas were largely independent. When Burma became independent as a state in 1948, these minorities had problems seeing themselves as part of the state of Burma. Even at this point there were always violent conflicts.

Military dictatorship

Independence was followed by a democratic phase, because there were elections. The politician U Nu became Prime Minister three times. But the military pushed their way into politics again and again and took on tasks. When U Nu was re-elected Prime Minister in 1960, General Ne Wins reacted to a military coup and sentenced the competitor to imprisonment. The ne-win regime followed.

This was only abolished in 1988 due to unrest among the population. That same year, another general, Saw Maung, came to power and established a military dictatorship. The National League for Democracy (NLD) was founded against this background and fought for democracy in the country.

In 1989, Burma was renamed in Myanmar. Elections were held in May 1990 and the NLD protest movement won them. That was not what the military government wanted. The elections were simply declared invalid by the military regime. Peaceful protest movements were brutally suppressed.

From questionable elections to first steps forward

The military government put a new constitution to the vote in 2008. But the election was not that fair, because the government received 92 percent approval. It was not until November 7, 2010 that there were elections again. The NLD boycotted these elections, however, because they distrusted the government of the time.

Hardly anyone could believe it when, in early 2011, the military government announced change and, at the same time, democratic reforms. And as a result, a lot has happened in recent years. The government has been civil since 2011, which means that power is no longer in the hands of the military.

People are allowed to vote and now, after by-elections, the NLD party is also in parliament. This is the party of the well-known Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The censorship is no longer so strong and many political prisoners have now been released. Something is happening in the country, but it is not yet optimal. At least that is how many critical Burmese who fought for democracy for a long time see it. If an emergency arises, the military could be in charge again, and even now the country is not yet a true democracy. That is why many politicians are very cautious as long as democracy is not consolidated.

On March 15, 2016, Htin Kyaw was elected President.

Oppression and arguments

The oppression of the many minorities is also a bad condition. Most of the people – 89 out of 100 are Buddhists – and the Buddhist monks are very influential in Myanmar. So there are always disputes between the Buddhist-influenced population and the Muslim, which is often even encouraged by the monks. Even in normal everyday life, Muslims, but also Christians, are often marginalized and have to live with disadvantages. If the clashes continued, the military could intervene again and stop the reform process within the country. They would then declare that without the military there would be no peace in the country. That is why many politicians do not go against the discrimination especially the Muslims in the country.

The Rohingya minority crisis

Serious crimes against humanity are being committed in Myanmar; we then also speak of a so-called genocide or at least ethnic cleansing. Almost 100,000 Rohingya fled the military in October 2016. They belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). After the attacks on the Rohingya, they fought back. This was not a new conflict. Many Rohingya fled the military as early as the 1970s. And even in the 1940s there were persecutions.

We don’t know how many people really died in 2017. The number of deaths is estimated at 6,700, 730 of them children, in the period from August to September 2017 alone. The Rohingya belong to the Muslim minority in the otherwise predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Up until the riots, around 1.1 million Rohingya lived there. However, Mayanmar does not accept them as a separate population group. They have no rights and are not allowed to vote, they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, but they were just as undesirable there. It is not yet clear whether, how and when they can return to Myanmar, a country located in Asia according to ethnicityology.


The crisis surrounding the Rohingya minority in Myanmar came to a head in August 2017. Hundreds of thousands of people fled west of Myanmar to Bangladesh. These were persecuted by the government of Myanmar. But even there in Bangladesh they are not wanted. It appears that most Buddhists in Myanmar do not recognize the Rohingya as “natural citizens” of the country. An old saying goes: “To be Burmese means to be Buddhist”. The state religion is Buddhism and Islam is viewed as foreign.

Myanmar History