"People's power" is a healthy and welcome force in Asia. It has ousted corrupt dictatorships in the Philippines and South Korea and is close to doing the same in Burma - if the military does not intervene to slaughter thousands of demonstrators.
Long-suffering Burma already would be on the road back to democracy if it were not for the stubborness and egotism of Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup 26 years ago and proceded to ruin the economy.One must admire Ne Win for originality. His "Burmese way to socialism" was an exotic blend of Marxism and anti-communism, Buddhism and isolation from the world, graft and oppression. It turned a resource-rich nation into one of Asia's poorest.
This summer, when hundreds of thousands of Burmese marched to protest their lack of food, money and freedom, it appeared that the 77-year-old general had got the point. He accepted blame for the country's plight and resigned as leader of its one-party ruling clique.
But Ne Win was faking. Maneuvering behind the scenes, he named his protege Sein Lwin to succeed him. This ex-general, hated for brutal suppression of student protests, lasted 17 days. Ne Win's next cat's-paw, Maung Maung, a civilian, failed to gain the people's confidence.
Last Saturday the regime made what it thought was a huge concession. It promised to end one-party rule and hold free elections within three months. Again this failed to satisfy the public, which mistrusts Ne Win's crowd to permit fair elections and demands an interim government to oversee the balloting.
Hundreds of thousands of students, Buddhist monks, dock workers, civil servants, doctors, lawyers and ordinary people took to the streets again. Significantly, they were joined by some army, navy and air force personnel and large numbers of policemen.
With strikes everywhere, transport halted, food in short supply and government offices closed, Ne Win's regime basically is out of business. The question is whether it goes quietly or after turning the guns it still has against the Burmese people.
Because of Ne Win's enforced isolation, no foreign government has much influence in Rangoon. But all should use whatever tools they have to convince him to yield to people's power without a bloodbath.