Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Burma
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 681-682
BURMA: The Party System in 1950-1957 and 1958-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Burma was annexed into the British Indian Empire in 1886 as a province of India, and in 1937 it was given status as a separate colony. The nationalist forces working for independence cooperated with the Japanese, forming a Burma Independence Army and helping to defeat the British. Disenchanted with Japanese rule, the Burma Independence Army became transformed into the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), fought a guerrilla war against the Japanese, and helped the British return to Burma. Led by Aung San, the AFPFL then worked once more for Burmese independence from Britain. The AFPFL won 190 of the 220 seats in the 1947 elections of a constituent assembly to form a constitution. It was adopted in September, and Burma became a fully independent nation outside the British Commnonwealth in January 1948.

Following Aung San's assassination on the eve of independence, U Nu became leader of the AFPFL. The party retained a clear majority of seats in the 1951 elections for the new parliament. But, within the AFPFL, U Nu's leadership was challenged by Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein, leaders of a socialist group within the coalition. The Burma Workers and Peasants Party, which split from the Socialists in 1950, was the most important opposition party outside the AFPFL. In 1956 parliamentary elections, the AFPFL again won about 60 percent of the seats and maintained control of the government with U Nu as premier.

The internal division within the AFPFL erupted into a split in early 1958, with the Swe-Nyein group breaking away and eventually forming the "Stable" AFPFL in distinction to U Nu's "Clean" AFPFL. The crisis resulted in General Ne Win's taking over the government in October 1958 and wielding emergency powers voted by parliament. After supervising an election in February 1960, Ne Win terminated his government. U Nu's Clean AFPFL, renamed the Union Party, won a landslide victory in these elections. But U Nu's government had trouble restraining inflation, promoting economic development, and controlling secessionist activities. General Ne Win intervened again in February 1962. This time, however, he established a military government and dissolved parliament. Thus our period of party study closes with the end of 1961.

Continuity and Change since 1962

As shown in the graph of party representation in the Burmese Assembly, none of the parties in our original study continued into 1978. Indeed, the three that existed as of 1962 were banned by Ne Win's Revolutionary Council in March 1964 and only his own party, formed after our study, was allowed to continue.

Original Parties, Terminated

501 Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. The AFPFL terminated during our study in 1958, when it split into the next two parties.

502 Stable Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. The Stable AFPFL lost the 1960 election to the other faction and constituted the main parliamentary opposition to U Nu's government. But parliament was dissolved with General Ne Win's takeover in 1962, and the party was dissolved in 1964.

503 Clean Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. The Clean AFPFL was renamed the Union Party by its leader U Nu, who headed the government after the 1960 elections and was deposed by Ne Win's coup. The Union Party was also dissolved in 1964.

504 National United Front. A coalition of mainly leftist parties, the NUF was a small group in the legislature terminated by Ne Win. It also ended in 1964.

New Parties, Continuing

505 Burma Socialist Program Party. The BSPP was founded soon after the military takeover in 1962 to promote the socialist goals of the new Revolutionary Council. In two years, it became the only legal party but remained little more than an elite military grouping. In 1970, the leadership undertook to transform the pall into a mass?based political organization. By February 1971, the party reported 70000 regular members.


Since 1962, Burma has been technically a single-party state, but the party was neither oriented toward nor organized for mass participation until 1971. Its capacity for mobilizing, aggregating, and articulating political interests has yet to be tested. The new constitution of 1974 established a national assembly for the first time since the coup, and BSPP candidates are reported to have won all but a few seats held by independents. Elections were held again in 1978 with similar results. Entering 1979, Burma's government is still headed by the ageing Ne Win, now president. Whether the BSPP will emerge as a mobilizing but stabilizing force that can guide the country after a change of leadership is problematic.

1.Our study of party politics in Burma is based on a file of 2,037 pages from 110 documents, all in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Amos Sawyer, who also coded all the Burmese parties on most of the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Mary Welfling completed the coding for the last two variable clusters. Allan Goodman was our outside consultant.