If there is anything inherent, organic and visceral in the human condition it has to be the right to make a living, to fight against social and economic inequities and injustice they face in doing so. This is what we are witnessing in Burma since people as never before have the chance now to air their grievances. Poor pay and unsafe working conditions or joblessness in towns and cities, farmers being driven out of their ancestral land in the countryside, students who can see no meaningful future from poor education standards and under funded under resourced universities and colleges, these issues will not go away.
Many however are seeing these protests and demonstrations at present in a very negative light as being disruptive and counterproductive instigated by leftist groups or attempts at sabotage by the military against the government, etc.! Nothing can be farther from the truth, barring nationalist groups inciting communal strife, and most of us have a good idea why.
An absence of protest and demonstrations, a complete consensus and collaboration, that some of us appear to expect, even insist and demand, is certainly not a characteristic of Western liberal democracies that these same people claim to emulate. Quite on the contrary! To allow these rights and having them exercised is a hallmark of democracy. Pluralism in society and politics is about dissent and debate, about choices made and choices denied, about winners and losers. Haven’t we all just celebrated a great election victory where the USDP was comprehensively routed, where the people have exercised their democratic right to choose and to reject?
The bread and butter issues of a livelihood which the majority of our people are still facing daily despite unprecedented levels of foreign investment and GDP growth need to be addressed urgently – employment and a living wage, health and safety at work, land to the tillers, not to mention the issues of healthcare for themselves and the family and educating the children in an economy beset by mounting inflation. Life’s essential services are woefully inadequate and the private sector provisions completely out of reach.
True there is a growing middle class that orthodox economists are so fond of. They remain however a minority whose important dilemmas consist of the choice of menus and venues, which restaurant in town for a meal or which beach for a holiday trip. Aside the hero worshippers who belong to the long established personality cult it is among their well fed comfortable ranks that we hear the condemnations and abuse in the social media hurled at those troublemakers who will not stop rocking the boat.
Why can’t they wait for the new government to sort out? All in good time and they must wait for their turn they say. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, when your children go hungry, how long are you willing and prepared to wait? Even those unruly students who cannot stay in their classrooms and must come out in the streets to protest do not have the time and luxury to wait until their time in the institutions of higher learning runs out while they are ‘enjoying themselves’ to face an uncertain future, poorly equipped to survive let alone thrive in a brave new world where competition for jobs is tough and the employers in the burgeoning private sector even tougher.
These young people in whose hands the future of our country lies, and the workers and farmers, want urgent action now. Not rhetoric and lip service. Not jam tomorrow. We are not even talking about the ordinary soldiers in the armed forces risking their life and limb in an endless civil war with a peace process dragging on forever, and to add insult to injury subjected to slavery by the officers and their wives.
The demand for food, land and peace is unlikely to fade away under any form or colour of government, military or civilian, dictatorship or democracy or a cross between the two that we have now.