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Myanmar - Independence

Armed resistance along traditional lines followed British annexation in l886. A modern nationalist movement began with the founding of the Young Men's Buddhist Association [YMBA] in 1906 and developed with the formation in 1920 of the General Council of Burmese Associations [GCBA], which advocated constitutional advancement, and the staging of the University Boycott of 1920 directed against the restrictive University Act.

The nationalist movement became more radical with the peasant uprising led by Saya San in 1930 and the formation of the Dobama Asiayon (We Myanmars Association) the same year. In 1938, the "Revolution of (the Myanmar Year) 1300", which started with a strike in the Chauk - Yenangyaung oilfields, brought the nationalist movement to a high level of development.

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Thakin (later Bogyoke) Aung San of the Dobama Asiayon, making an effort to stage an armed struggle, made contact with the Japanese Army. A group of young members of the Dobama Asiayon, the Thirty Comrades, was given military training in Hainan and the Burma Independence Army (BIA) was formed in Bangkok on 26 December 1942. The BIA advanced into Myanmar with the Japanese Army and forced the withdrawal of the British in 1942. The BIA was reorganized as the Burma Defence Army on 27 July 1942.

The Burma Defence Army joined other anti-fascist elements in the Anti-Fascist Organization (AFO) in August 1944 and started an armed struggle against the Japanese forces on 27 March 1945. After the War, the AFO was reorganized as the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) with Bogyoke Aung San as President. Demonstrating its political strength in a general strike in September 1946, the AFPFL was admitted into the Governor's Executive Council with Bogyoke Aung San as Deputy Chairman of the Council. In November 1946 the AFPFL called for independence within one year and discussions with the British Government resulted in the Aung San - Attlee Agreement of 27 January 1947, which provided for the functioning of the Executive Council as an interim government and the holding of elections for a Constituent Assembly.

On September 24, 1947, the Constituent Assembly approved the constitution of the independent Union of Burma. It provided for a parliamentary system of government and a bicameral legislature. The upper house, the Chamber of Nationalities, had strong minority representation (72 out of 125 members were non-Burman); the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, was elected from geographical constituencies defined by population. It nominated the prime minister, who was responsible to it. The president of the Union of Burma had only formal powers as head of state.

In accordance with the Panglong Agreement, Shan State and Kachin State were created. When a Karenni delegation was seated in the Constituent assembly in September, Karenni State was also established. (It would become Kayah State in 1948.) The autonomy of local Karenni and Shan rulers was guaranteed, though their regions would be under the supervision of union residents; Shan and Karenni states were given the right to secede from the union after a period of 10 years. The Chins of the western frontier were not granted a state, but Chin Special Division was established. Although a Karen state was not set up, a referendum on this issue was promised and the Karen Affairs Council created "to aid and advise the Union Government on matters relating to the Karens."

"Although a critical Ba Maw said that the constitution created not one but "many nations, kept balanced and apart," one of its authors pointed out that the constitution, "though in theory federal, is in practice unitary." State legislatures were not separately elected but were composed of members of the union legislature from their respective states. Governors of the states were chosen by the union prime minister in consultation with the state legislatures and served as ministers in the union cabinet. The Supreme Court had jurisdiction over disputes between the union and state governments and between the states. The states could, however, pass laws as long as they did not conflict with union law. Burma Proper was ruled directly by the union government.

The 1947 constitution expressed a commitment to social justice and the establishment of a welfare state. The rights of people to employment, education, support in old age, and health were asserted. Although the right of private property was recognized, large absentee landholdings, such as had been maintained by the Chettiars before 1942, were prohibited. The state had the right, as the ultimate owner of the land, to redistribute land. The state was secular, and freedom of religion was guaranteed. Other fundamental civil rights included freedom of speech and assembly and equality before the law. Equality of the sexes was guaranteed.

On October 17, 1947, prime ministers U Nu and Clement Attlee signed a treaty formally recognizing the independence of the Union of Burma. The British agreed to cancel a 15 million debt and provide a military mission. The Burmese government claimed the right to expropriate British properties, though with adequate compensation for the firms involved. On December 10, 1947, the British Parliament over the strenuous opposition of Churchill's Conservative Party passed the Burma Independence Act. January 4, 1948, was set as the date for the transfer of power. That independence was achieved with a minimum of violence was a tribute to the moderation of AFPFL and British leaders. This contrasted sharply with the stubborn policies of the Dutch in Indonesia and the French in Indochina, where their futile attempts to block independence resulted in much bloodshed and hardship.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:40 ZULU