Burma's Police Forces: Continuities and Contradictions
Whenever reference is made to Burma's coercive state apparatus, the armed forces (Tatmadaw) immediately spring to mind. This is hardly surprising. After all, the country boasts the world's most durable military dictatorship. Over the past 50 years, the armed forces have taken the lead in crushing domestic protests and waging counterinsurgency campaigns against a wide range of armed groups. There is another institution, however, that was once even more important and, arguably, is starting to recover its former place in Burma's internal affairs. This is the country's national police force. Under British, Japanese and Burmese governments, the police have always played a critical role in the country's administration and national security. Since the 1962 military coup the police force has been overshadowed by the armed forces, but it has continued to evolve and grow. As the Myanmar Police Force (MPF), it is now larger and more powerful than at any time in Burma's history, and is considered a key instrument of control by the hybrid civilian-military government which first met in Naypyidaw in January 2011. As the armed forces step back - to some degree, at least - from direct rule, and the new administration tries to present a more civilian face to the world, the national police force is likely to become even more important. Such a transition will place the MPF under considerable strain. It already faces major challenges, many of which were shared by its colonial forebears. An effort is currently being made to improve the force's performance and reform its culture, but this will take a long time. It will also be dependent on factors that are outside the Police Chief's control, not least of which is the Tatmadaw's willingness to allow the MPF greater autonomy. Even so, the process will bear watching, as it holds out the promise of a more capable and professional police force in Burma. This is not only something that has long been desired by the Burmese people, but it will be essential if the country is ever to make an orderly transition to genuine democratic rule.