Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Citation

32 Third World Quarterly 1199 (2011)


Despite holding recent elections, Burma’s military government does not intend to relinquish power; its new constitution guarantees the army the right to do whatever it wants. Democracy will therefore not come to Burma through legal, peaceful, incremental steps. Instead, democracy will come to Burma outside the legal process, because the basis for the regime’s power has changed, becoming markedly weaker. When it first seized power in 1961, the military was united and therefore able to rule through coercion alone. In the past several decades, by contrast, the generals have increasingly sought to purchase support by giving income and resource streams to key players. But if people support the regime only because it pays them, they will stop doing so when it stops paying. In recent years the regime has alienated many traditional supporters by taking away the income and resource streams on which they had come to rely. As these groups become alienated from the top generals, they may turn to each other to forge new deals, and ultimately some may try to enlist the people as political allies. Burma therefore fits the most common pattern for democratisation: it will come through elite defections rather than popular insurrection.