Myanmar's Underground Communist Party Claims Key Role in '88 Uprising

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by Khin Maung Soe

The banned Communist Party of Burma (CPB) claims it played a key role in the 1988 student-led, pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar, saying its ironic use of "multiparty democracy" as a slogan for ousting the country's dictatorship drew popular support from the people and laid the foundation for the country's ongoing reforms.

"I don't see the 1988 uprising as a failure," a key CPB leader, Hla Kyaw Zaw, told RFA's Myanmar Service from Kunming, the capital of China's southwestern Yunnan province, where she lives in exile.

"Even though we did not succeed in our mission to oust the military dictatorship at that time, it helped sow the seeds of a formidable political opposition," she said in an interview in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the August 8, 1988 bloody revolt on Thursday.

Her father Brigadier General Kyaw Zaw had founded Myanmar's military but joined the CPB in 1976 and moved to China, where he died last year.

He and current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's independence hero father Aung San were members of the legendary "Thirty Comrades" who trained in Japan in the struggle for independence from Britain. Aung San founded the CPB in 1939 but severed ties with it in 1946 following a rift.  


Hla Kyaw Zaw, a Party central committee member, said the CPB had set the pace for the 1988 uprising by launching a campaign to replace the dictatorship under General Ne Win with multiparty democracy.

The campaign drew support from the people, who were fed up with the leader's nationalization and other programs that made Myanmar one of the world's most impoverished nations, she said.

"In 1985, our party congress decided to use the multiparty democracy theme to unite all classes of people. We even sent letters to retired politicians to join the 'liberation struggle' and set up cells for the purpose," she said.

Some analysts say the party used democracy as a front knowing full well the people would reject communist ideology, as it seldom encourages multiparty democracy.

Hla Kyaw Zaw insisted that by introducing a campaign for multiparty democracy the CPB had "planted in the mindset" of the people the ideals of freedom, which she said helped fuel the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990 polls which the ruling military junta did not recognize.

Hla Kyaw Zaw said that on the military front, the CPB had launched attacks from two major bases in Shan state along China's border and crushed Myanmar government forces there at the same time students were leading the uprising which began in the then capital Yangon in 1988.

"The government was in a dilemma as it faced mass demonstrations in Yangon and an assault in Shan state," she said although eventually the military retook power in September 1988 and went on a brutal crackdown across the country and regained control of the situation.

No government officials have ever been held accountable for the violence, which left an estimated 3,000 people dead.


Asked to comment about ongoing reforms by President Thein Sein, who took over in 2011 after landmark elections and five decades of military rule, Hla Kyaw Zaw said the key to making reforms permanent is ending the armed ethnic conflicts in the country.

"If such conflicts cease, the military cannot flex its muscle, and its role in the administration of the country will be minimal," she said, calling also for the 2008 constitution to be amended to end the military's powerful role.

Reported by Khin Maung Soe for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Soe and Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
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