Burma Orders Civil, Military Officials to Quit Ruling Party
The beleaguered government of Burma, once again bowing to opposition demands, ordered military, police and civil service officials Friday to resign their memberships in the ruling party, Rangoon Radio said.
The new regulation ended the long practice of members of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party also serving in top military, police and civil service positions.
The move follows the government’s decision last weekend to yield to popular demands for a democracy by abolishing single-party rule and by promising the opposition free, multi-party elections within three months.
Severing the armed forces from the ruling party has been a key opposition demand, but it was not clear whether Friday’s order would change the loyalties of the 200,000-man military, which has provided the major backing for the party that has been besieged by months of massive street protests and crippling labor strikes.
Would Ensure Free Elections
However, the Council of State, the top government body, said Friday that it made the decision in order to ensure that the upcoming elections would be free, according to the radio report.
Since the founding of the ruling party in 1963 to legitimize the rule of Ne Win, who seized power the year before, all members of Burma’s armed forces have had to be party members.
“I think they’ve lit a fuse,” one Western diplomat said, “and they’re not far off lighting the powder keg. Either they’re preparing to retire gracefully, having made their last concession, or it’s a trick. It makes a very volatile situation pretty well explosive.”
The radio also quoted the government as saying that, as a result of the council’s decision, everyone employed by the state would be permitted to resign from the ruling party, and recommended that low-level government workers be severed from all political parties.
“I’m absolutely amazed,” another Western diplomat said. “It sounds like a mass suicide.”
More Street Protests
Earlier Friday, an estimated half a million people took to the streets of Rangoon for the third consecutive day, demanding that the government resign to make way for an interim administration.
Virtually the whole Rangoon police force and nearly all civil servants in the capital have been on strike and taking part in demonstrations supporting the opposition’s demands.