History & Current Events
1988 Uprising and 1990 Election
8888 Protests in Rangoon
_The rule of General Ne Win, and his ‘Burmese Way to Socialism, had turned Burma, once expected to become one of the fastest developing Asian Tigers of the region, into one of the poorest countries in the world. Sporadic protests against the military government had broken out several times since Ne Win took power in 1962, but these were always brutally suppressed. In 1988, there was growing resentment towards military rule – further exasperated by police brutality, economic mismanagement and corruption within the government – but there were no channels to address these grievances. All this lead to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, known as the 8888 Uprising.
The uprising was started by students in Rangoon on 8 August 1988 (‘8888’), and protests quickly spread throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of monks, young children, university students, housewives, and doctors demonstrated against the regime. The uprising ended on 18 September 1988, after a bloody military coup by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Thousands of people were reportedly killed by the military during the uprising, although Burmese authorities put the figure at around 350 people killed.
Early Protests – March-July
The protest movement began on 12 March 1988 when students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) got into an argument with some other students at a local tea shop. One of the students, the son of a Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) official, was arrested for injuring one of the RIT students, but was later released without charges. In response to student protests at a local police department, 500 riot police were mobilised, and in the ensuing clash one student was shot and killed. The incident angered pro-democracy groups and the next day more students rallied both at RIT and at other campuses. These students had never protested before but now began to see themselves as activists.
By mid-March, several protests had occurred and there was open dissent in the army. On March 16, students demanding an end to one-party rule were marching towards soldiers at Inya Lake in Rangoon when riot police stormed them from the rear, clubbing several students to death and raping others. Several students recalled the police shouting "Don't let them escape" and "Kill them!"
Following these protests the regime announced the closure of universities for several months. By June 1988, large demonstrations of students and other pro-democracy sympathisers were seen daily and the protests spread from Rangoon throughout Burma, demanding multi-party democracy. On 23 July 1988, Ne Win, in an attempt to calm the situation, announced that he was resigning as BSPP party chairman. He promised a multi-party system, but had appointed the much disliked Sein Lwin, known as the ‘Butcher of Rangoon’, to lead the new government. In an address on 23 July 1988 he ominously warned, “When the army shoots, it shoots to kill.” 
_Main Protests – August 1988
In August of 1988 the protests reached their peak. A nationwide demonstration was planned for 8 August 1988 (8-8-88), an auspicious date based on numerological significance. Between 2 and 10 August, coordinated protests occurred in most Burmese towns, including in rural areas, students across the country were denouncing Sein Lwin’s regime, and Tatmadaw (the Burmese Army) troops were mobilised.
In the first few days of the Rangoon protests, activists contacted lawyers and monks in Mandalay to encourage them to take part in the protests. The students were quickly joined by a diverse group of Burmese citizens, including government workers, Buddhist monks, military personnel, customs officers, teachers, and hospital staff. 10,000 people alone demonstrated outside the Sule Pagoda in Rangoon. On 3 August, the junta imposed martial law and instituted a ban on gatherings of more than five people.
A general strike began as planned on 8 August 1988 and mass demonstrations were held across Burma, with ethnic minorities, Buddhists, Muslims, students, and workers, young and old, all participating. Over the next four days these demonstrations continued and the marches would occur daily until 19 September. The regime was surprised by the scale of the protests and promised to listen to the demands of the protesters “insofar as possible”.  At the same time, Sein Lwin brought in more soldiers from insurgent areas to deal with the protesters, and a short time later they opened fire on the protesters. Ne Win ordered that “guns were not to shoot upwards”, meaning that he was ordering the military to shoot directly at protesters.  On 10 August soldiers fired into Rangoon General Hospital, killing nurses and doctors treating wounded protestors. State-run Radio Rangoon reported that 1,451 “looters and disturbance-makers” had been arrested.
_On 26 August, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was in Rangoon on a visit from Oxford to care for her sick mother and had not previously taken part in the demonstrations, entered the political arena, giving a speech in front of 500,000 people at the Shwedagon Pagoda. It was at this point that she became a symbol for the struggle for democracy in Burma. As the daughter of General Aung San, the so-called father of Burmese independence, she appeared for many to be the natural leader of the pro-democracy movement. She urged the crowd not to turn on the army, but to find peace through non-violent means.
Many other former democracy leaders returned to the scene around the same time, including former Prime Minister U Nu (PM January 1948-June 1956) and retired Brigadier General Aung Gyi, in what was described as a “democracy summer”. Despite this, Ne Win remained in the background.
During the September Party Congress in 1988, 90% of the party delegates voted for a multi-party system of government. The BSPP announced that they would be organising an election, but the opposition called for the immediate resignation of the government, and for an interim government to organise the elections. The BSPP rejected both demands, and protesters again took to the streets on 12 September.
By mid-September the protesters grew more violent and lawless, with soldiers deliberately leading protesters into clashes that the army easily won. Protesters demanded more immediate change, and distrusted steps for incremental reform.
_SLORC Coup d’État and Crackdown
On 18 September, the 8888 Uprising came to an end when the military, led by General Saw Maung, retook power in a coup d’état. General Maung established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), imposing more draconian measures than those of Ne Win. After martial law was imposed, protests were violently broken up. The government announced on the state-run radio that the military had assumed power in the interest of the people, "in order to bring a timely halt to the deteriorating conditions on all sides all over the country”.  Tatmadaw troops indiscriminately fired on protestors in cities throughout Burma, and within the first week of securing power, 1,000 students, monks and schoolchildren were killed and another 500 were killed protesting outside the US embassy (the event was caught by a cameraman nearby who distributed the footage to the world’s media). Protestors were pursued into the jungle and some students went to the Thai-Burma border for training.
By the end of September, around 3,000 people had been killed, with 1,000 dead in Rangoon alone, and an unknown number had been injured. At this time, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed for help.
_However, by 21 September the military had regained control, and the pro-democracy movement effectively collapsed in October. By the end of 1988, an estimated 10,000 people, including protesters and soldiers, had been killed, and many others were missing.
_ 1990 Elections
In May 1990, after huge international and national pressure, the military junta arranged free elections for the first time in 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 80% of the seats in Parliament (398 out of 447). However, the military junta, surprised by such a landslide victory for the opposition, annulled the results of the election and refused to hand over power. Many members of the NLD and other opposition groups were arrested, and Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Rangoon; she would remain under house arrest for 15 of the next 21 years, until November 2010. Aung San Suu Kyi has continued to advocate non-violence as the best way to achieve lasting political change, and is currently running for a seat in Parliament in the upcoming by-elections on 1 April 2012.
_ Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule, 2001, p.51.
 Shelby Tucker, Burma: The Curse of Independence, 2001, p.228
 Seth Mydans, “Uprising in Burma: The Old Regime Under Siege”, The New York Times, August 12, 1988.
 Amitav Ghosh, “Cultures of Creativity: The Centennial Celebration of the Nobel Prizes”, The Kenyon Review, Vol. 23, No. 2, 2001, pp. 158–165.
 Federico Ferrara, “Why Regimes Create Disorder: Hobbes's Dilemma during a Rangoon Summer”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2003, pp. 302–325.