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Military Coups in Burma

The period from 1948 to 1962 Burma suffered widespread conflict and internal struggle. Constitutional disputes and persistent division among political and social groups contributed to the democratic government's weak hold on power. In 1958, the military was invited in temporarily by Prime Minister U Nu to restore political order. Civilian power was resorted 18 months later. But rebellions by Burma's minorities continued and there was also opposition to U Nu's plan to make Buddhism the state religion. In 1962 General Ne Win led a coup abolishing the constitution and establishing a xenophobic military government with socialist economic priorities. The Myanmar Socialist Program party was made the only legal political organization.

Beginning in the 1920s, and increasingly in the late 1930s, Western educated Burmese were allowed to participate to some degree in government decision making. These concessions came in response to nationalist agitation.

Popular elections to choose indigenous members for the legislature were introduced, and the colonial government embarked on a program designed to lead to eventual self-government for Burma. The initial experiment with Western parliamentary institutions under British tutelage was cut short by World War II. Early Japanese victories expelled the British from the country. This encouraged Burmese nationalism, especially after 1943, when the Japanese established a nominally independent Burmese government.

Within two years after the end of the war, Great Britain agreed to restore independence to Burma. The independent republic, the Union of Burma, came into being on January 4, 1948. The nationalist leadership of independent Burma was determined to rid the country of foreign influences, a determination first expressed in the 1947 decision to take the country out of the British Commonwealth. Efforts were made also to rid the economy of foreign dominance and to set up a welfare state along Marxist lines. A political system of parliamentary democracy, however, was to be followed, and the monarchy was not revived.

Shortly before independence day, the new nation suffered the loss of some af its ablest leaders through assassination. Other critical problems faced the new government were the result of ethnic group friction, ideological differences among the politicized elite, and severe economic difficulties. Constitutional means were abandoned by the government's opposition, and civil war began. During its first two years, the survival of the Union of Burma was at issue. The nadir was reached in mid-1949.

Although insurgencies and economic difficulties continued to trouble the country in the 1950 sand 1960s, the threat to the continued existence of the nation from internal upheaval was never as serious as in the first two years of independence. Parliamentary democracy did not survive, however.

After a decade of civilian rule had failed to provide effective government, the armed forces under General Ne Win established first a temporary caretaker regime, at the invitation of Parliament; in March 1962, after a brief interval of civilian rule, Ne Win returned to power by means of a military coup. General Ne Win's regime, called the Revolutionary Government of the Union of Burma (RGUB), promptly dissolved Parliament and began to rule by decree.



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