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AFPFL Politics and Issues

U NuSome 17 million citizens of the Republic of the Union of Burma became independent of the British Commonwealth on 4 January 1948 in an atmosphere of high optimism regarding the future. Burmese leaders and their followers alike believed that independence and state socialism would be the solution to most of their country’s press-ing political and economic problems. The Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), the most influential political organization in Burma, commanded an over-whelming majority in the Provisional Parliament, and possessed widespread popular support as a result of its leading role in the struggle for independence. The only effective opposition organizations were the Burma Communist Party (BCP) and the Karen National Union (KNU), the latter representing Burma’s largest ethnic minority group.

Between 1948 and 1958 Burma was a dominant-party state in which freedom of speech, press, and assembly, the principle of judicial independence, and the legal framework of parliamentary democracy were largely respected. Politics was dominated by the AFPFL, its popular support guaranteed through its historical role as the party of Aung San and the struggle for independence. It remained a coalition of diverse individuals and groups. Its members, who numbered 1.3 million at the third league congress in January 1958, included persons who belonged directly to the AFPFL, 488,000 at that time; the remainder were affiliated members, part of the league through their belonging to an AFPFL-affiliated group.

These included a broad array of ethnic and vocational associations: the Burma Muslim Congress, the Karen National Congress, the Union Karen League, the Chin Congress, the United Hill Peoples Congress, the All-Burma Teachers' Organization, the All-Burma Women's Freedom League, the Youth League, the Al-Burma Fire Brigade, and the AU-Burma Federation of Trade Orgaization. The Socialist Party and its affiliated organizations, the Trade Union Congress-Burma, and the All-Burma Peasants' Organizato, were perhaps the most important component of the AFPFL, although the more Marxist-oriented socialists broke with it to form the Burma Workers' and Peasants' Party (BWPP; also known as the Red Socialists). Socialist leaders U Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein served in U Nu's cabinet, and the latter was the AFPFL secretary general.

Given the difficulty of finding an acceptable solution to the problem of political and ethnic diversity, it was not surprising that the new leadership was unable to reconcile the differences and that the resilience of the newly forged union was tested almost immediately. Within several months of independence, communist bands were in armed rebellion, seeking to overthrow the central government. Several months thereafter, elements of the Karen minority - the largest of the discontented ethnic groups - launched their own revolt, as did members of other ethnic minorities, all seeking a territory for their own group and greater decisionmalong authority in matters affecting its future.

At independence in 1948, military operations, except those engagements against Karen forces, initially consisted of an endless series of skirmishes between government forces, and guerrillas, never involving more than a few hundred people. Some of the engagements between government forces and the Karens were on a much larger scale, and occasionally resulted in heavy casualties. The government always claimed victories, but the fighting went on. The main immediate objectives of the insurgents were the capture of arms, money, food, and supplies, rather than the seizure and administration of territory. The government's minimum objectives were the holding of Rangoon and other important towns, and maintenance of commmunications. Operating from these urban strongholds, the government expected to bring the dissidents progressively under control.

The outbreak of Karen-Burman fighting caused many Karens to desert. Wholesale Karen desertions played havoc with Burma's armed forces, and dissidents soon occupied much of Lower Burma and spread elsewhere. Under existing circumstances, no Karen in the government armed forces could be regarded as completely reliable. There was also a strong possibility that the Chins and Kachins will not show much enthusiasmin fighting Karens. The government therefore had to rely more and more upon strictly Burman manpower much of which was half-trained or untrained, undisciplined, subject to political influences, and united only in opposition to the Karens. The government approached both the US and UK, asking for large quantities of arms and other military equipment needed to bring its campaign to a successful conclusion. The UK promised to fill a part of the requirement, and supplied 10,000 ri?es but delayed shipments of 12,000 more in view of conditions. The government also attempted to secure arms on the open market.

By 1951, however, in part because the insurgents were never able to unify their efforts and in part because of U Nu's determined response, the reconstructed armed forces had brought the insurrection substantially under control, although insurgents continued to dominate much of the countryside. The infiltration into Shan State of remnants of Nationalist Chinese forces begining in late 1949 compounded concern over domestically rooted subversion, arousing fears that Chinse troops might persue their defeated opponents into Burma. Burmese government actions alleviated these pressures to some degree in the mid- and late 1950s. The government also succeeded in gaining increased loyalty among certain hill minorities; but Karens and Communists continued to feed government concern over national stability and to arouse fears among the grass-roots population for their own personal security.

The first national election for the Chamber of Deputies had to be postponed four times, owing to the insurgency. It was finally held in 1951-52 over a seven-month period as troops were moved around the country to guard the ballot boxes. The AFPFL won handily, gaining 200 of the 239 seats (counting candidates from affliated groups); non-AFPFL opposition candidates came from the Marxist BWPP and the supporters of old politicians, such as Sir Paw Tun and Ba Maw.

No person, group, or combination of groups appeared to be capable of putting Burma’s house in order. Before it was able to revive authority and restore peace through-out the country, the government would have to infuse new and more capable leadership into its administration, broaden its representative base, obtain foreign ?nancial and military assistance, and come to an effective working agreement with the various ethnic minority groups. Its ability to accomplish any one, much less all, of these tasks was highly questionable. The Government of Burma was dominated by young, ambitious, inexperienced and inept politicians of the more extreme nationalistic, leftist variety. None of them appeared capable of assuming constructive leadership. Furthermore, their ideologies and private ambitions did not always coincide, since personal considerations were often placed above the general welfare of the country.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:47 ZULU