The Myanmar has taken, since June 1989, the name of Union of Myanma not to derive the name from the Burmese ethnic group alone. Its population, young (more than 40% is under 15 years old) and distinguished by high annual increases (2.8%), has exceeded35 million residents at the 1983 census (39.9 million in 1988), while 10 years earlier it had reached 29 million. On the same date the capital was almost 2.5 million residents, followed by Mandalay (532.985 residents), Bassein (144.092) and Moulmein (219.991). Unemployment and underemployment are two negative characteristics destined to worsen in the coming years, although the contrast between rich and poor appears less striking than in other Third World countries. Illiteracy affects 35% of the mostly rural population; 24% of the population is urban. The active are about half of the residents and of these nearly 17 million are dedicated to agriculture. The gross national product per resident is US $ 200 (World Bank estimate, 1986).
The economy, for which the Burmese utopian socialism has achieved the nationalization of trade and industry (but not of agriculture), is strongly in deficit, forcing the use of foreign aid as already in the mid-1970s. And this despite the fact that agricultural resources are sufficient: rice is also sold to neighboring countries and rice cultivation is susceptible to further development; furthermore, the precious wood, the Tenasserim rubber and the resources of the subsoil guarantee a fair export. In particular, oil is extracted along the coasts and in the center of the country (refineries in Syriam near Rangoon and in Chauk), lead in Bawdin-Namtu, and zinc, copper, antimony, nickel, tungsten and tin especially in the Karen and Tenasserim states. . The industry,
Politics. – The entry into force in 1974 of a new Constitution which made the Myanmar a socialist republic, and the election of a People’s Assembly, albeit on a single party list, did not improve the Burmese political and economic situation. Alongside the endemic guerrillas of the Karen, Kachin and Shan minorities, fighting for autonomy, ideological opposition groups such as the Burmese Communist Party (pro-Chinese) and the Progressive People’s Party, ideologically to the right of the regime, appeared in 1975.
Burmese socialism, unable to find a way out of the disastrous economic situation, even after the launch of the package of economic reforms in May 1976, was forced to open up to international markets and ask for financing from the World Bank, in order to strengthen the mining and timber industry.
In an attempt to overcome international isolation, while not abandoning the policy of non-alignment, Ne Win went to Phnom Penh in November 1977. This visit was followed by those of Lay Muang in Hanoi and Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang in Rangoon. On November 9, Ne Win handed over the position of head of state to General San Yu, while maintaining the presidency of the single party, the Burma Socialist Program Party, BSPP). In early 1983, the Rangoon government successfully conducted extensive operations against the Karen rebels who controlled the southern regions. In October of the same year, following the attack (attributed to the North Korean secret services) on South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan, on an official visit to the country, the interior minister and key men of the government and security services were replaced.. In November 1985, with a constitutional amendment, San Yu also assumed the position of vice president of the BSPP, while the elections held in the same period confirmed the success of the men already in power.
In the economic and social field, after relative prosperity in 1977-78 and 1982-83, the situation became critical again and the failure of the ” green revolution ”, which led to a dramatic shortage of rice, caused a drastic setback. reduction of imports and the abandonment of numerous development projects. Nor did the establishment, in 1986, of “border commercial areas” with China, a privileged interlocutor, change the situation.
In foreign policy the Myanmar, while remaining faithful to the formula of non-alignment, tried to improve its international relations: in 1987 Ne Win went to the United States and Federal Germany, while San Yu visited Romania and Yugoslavia. On July 23, 1988, following the continuing protests of the population and Buddhist monks calling for a democratic change, Ne Win resigned from his position as president of the BSPP and handed over the leadership of the party and the state to Sein Lwin. Demonstrations also continued against the new leader, former head of the secret police, and were suffocated in a bloodbath (3,000 dead in a few days). The ” moderate ” Maung Maung assumed power, but he too was forced to step down by growing opposition and facing a country on the brink of anarchy and civil war. On September 18, 1988, the military returned to power in a coup and General Saw Maung assumed full powers, while promising a return to democracy and pluralism. Alongside the BSPP (which changed its name to National Unity Party) other parties were admitted. But the opposition and its leaders they were harshly opposed and persecuted together with the military organizations of the dissident ethnic groups. The success of the major opposition party, the National League of Democracy, and its allies in the political elections of May 1990 did not mitigate the dominance of the military, which prevented the convening of the People’s Assembly and tightened the repression, while announcing the introduction of a new constitution to be submitted to referendum.