Former political prisoners commemorate 1988 uprising in Taunggyi

Activists, politicians and former political prisoners in Shan State commemorated the 29th anniversary of the student-led democratic uprising with a ceremony in the state capital yesterday, urging the government to revise the constitution and reign in the military’s control over the country.

At the gathering at the 1988 memorial monument in Taunggyi’s Bogyoke Aung San Park, speakers noted that the country’s democratic reforms are not yet complete, despite the advent of a popularly elected government.

“Peace won’t be obtained if we are unable to control the Tatmadaw’s authority. The 2008 Constitution must be amended to control the Tatmadaw’s authority. That’s why I believe we won’t get peace without amending the 2008 [Constitution],” said U Tin Maung Toe, a member of the ‘88 Uprising Anniversary Ceremony Preparatory Committee.

The 2008 Constitution guarantees the Tatmadaw a 25% share of all parliamentary seats – giving them veto power on changing the constitution – and allows the Commander-in-Chief to appoint three key ministers.

U Tin Maung Toe also recalled that ’88 anniversaries were held annually in secret for many years, banned until 2012. But now that the commemorations can be held publically, he called on former political prisoners to remind the younger generation of the movement’s history.

The demonstrations that began on August 8, 1988, targeted economic stagnation and rising costs under the one-party dictatorship of U Ne Win. The demonstrations unseated Ne Win, but a military coup ensued, laying the groundwork for the junta’s rule.

U Myo Myint, a former political prisoner and chair of the Shan State Hluttaw Complaint Scrutiny Committee, said activists are still monitoring the democratic reforms closely.

“All of the democracy activists are still ready to fight if another military dictator came into power. Our strengths have not died down yet,” he said.

The ruling National League for Democracy, which was birthed as part of the ’88 movement, has said that peace must be a priority and changing the constitution is on the backburner until a ceasefire is signed.

Former political prisoner and lawyer Daw Khin Moe Moe warned however that fighting will not stop in Shan State until the military-drafted 2008 Constitution is amended to enshrine ethnic rights to self-determination.

Former political prisoner Ko Than Naing suggested at the Taunggyi event that August 8 be made into a public holiday, so that the 1988 uprising will never be forgotten.