The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) is an opposition movement in Myanmar. The Front was formed after the 8888 protests in 1988 — a series of nationwide marches launched by students in order to protest against the government. The ABSDF is mostly composed of current and former students (the majority of which study at the Rangoon Arts and Sciences University) and the insurgency even has an armed military wing, which has fought alongside other anti-government groups such as the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) or the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
History & Foundations
Until the 1988 protests, the country was ruled by a totalitarian, one-party political system led by the Burma Socialist Programme Party. This political system caused Myanmar to face economic hardship due to its isolation, all while its army grew proportionately stronger (1). Moreover, the socialist government nationalised some of the country’s largest firms and its approach to governance caused the country to become increasingly traditionalist rather than secular; Buddhist beliefs, customs, and superstitions became inalienable from the Burmese political sphere (2). Eventually, this led to societal discontent and students in Rangoon eventually organised the aforementioned 8888 uprising.
This series of uprisings led to the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of university students, common citizens, and even monks (3). After starting in August of 1988, the uprisings were stopped in mid-September of the same year after the military (notably the State Law and Order Restoration Council) led a coup d’état in Myanmar. Since this coup d’état, Burmese politics have become plagued with divisions, friction, and a flawed electoral system. In fact, Aung San Suu Kyi — the leader of the National League for Democracy — became one of the country’s most idolised politicians due to her democratic objectives (although the legitimacy of her democratic objectives remain debatable as some may attribute the Rohingya Genocide to her actions). After winning 81% of parliamentary seats in 1990 (4), the military junta rejected the results, placed Suu Kyi in house arrest, and continued to rule the country. Essentially, military officials suppressed political expression and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) decided to continue its struggle by maintaining semi-underground networks, forming a legitimate political party, and taking up arms. The ABSDF took up arms by forming its Front on the Myanmar-Thailand border.
Objectives, Ideology, & Alliances
The primary goal of the ABSDF is to liberate the Burmese population from what they view as the oppression of the military. Their motives are heavily guided by democratic values, a desire for political freedom, and the respect of human rights. Politically, the Front heavily criticises the one-party system and instead promotes federal systems. Interestingly, the ABSDF undergoes elections for its leadership role. As an avid supporter of democracy, the Front implements elections at its own level and all of its leaders serve for three-year terms. In 2018, Than Khe was elected as the Front’s chairman.
The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front often compares the current resistance campaign in Myanmar to the 8888 protests (5), claiming that the rights of their people depend on their direct action. In 2021, there was another coup d’état (this time orchestrated by the Tatmadaw), and various groups have formed to resist against the national army. The ABSDF has often collaborated with these groups as a result. The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) is one of the groups that the ABSDF collaborates with the most, although it has also formed relations with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). This latter alliance is filled with controversy, however, as 35 members of the ABSDF died in custody in the Kachin State in 1991-1992 (where the KIA is located). 15 of these members were executed as spies, while the other 20 were tortured to death during interrogation procedures. More contemporarily, the ABSDF has allied with the People's Defence Force (PDF) to fight agains the State (6).
Approach to Resistance
The ABSDF upholds its strategy of a hybrid between armed intervention and direct political action. Due to the Front taking up arms, it was classified as a terrorist organisation by the United State between 2001 and 2010 (6). Presently, the ABSDF controls seven camps/headquarters along the Myanmar-Thailand border, one camp which spreads over the Myanmar-Indian border, and another camp over the Myanmar-China border. Interestingly, the ABSDF even has foreign branches in the US and in Australia.
In 2012 and 2013, the ABSDF held ceasefire talks with the government. In fact, the ABSDF even signed a state-level ceasefire with the Kevin State government in early August 2013 (3). This was followed by the signature of a preliminary ceasefire agreement between the ABSDF and the Burmese government (3).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Tallentire, Mark. “The Burma Road to Ruin.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, September 28, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/sep/28/burma.uk.
(2) - Woodsome, Kate. “'Burmese Way to Socialism' Drives Country into Poverty.” 'Burmese way to socialism' drives country into poverty, October 7, 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20090826114804/http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2007-10/2007-10-04-voa10.cfm.
(3) - Myay, Chan. “ABSDF Signs State-Level Ceasefire Agreement.” The Irrawaddy, August 20, 2016. https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/absdf-signs-state-level-ceasefire-agreement.html.
(4) - Guyot, James F. “Myanmar in 1990: The Unconsummated Election.” Asian Survey 31, no. 2 (1991): 205–11. https://doi.org/10.2307/2644932.
(5) - Head, Jonathan. “Myanmar Coup: What Protesters Can Learn from the '1988 Generation'.” BBC News. BBC, March 16, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56331307.
(6) - Chindwin, The. “All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) Has Entered a War with Myanmar's Junta Military.” THE CHINDWIN, January 16, 2022. https://www.thechindwin.com/all-burma-students-democratic-front-absdf-has-entered-a-war-with-myanmars-junta-military/.
(7) - Kyaw, Htet Aung. “Student Army Taken off US Terror List.” Student army taken off US terror list | Democratic Voice of Burma, January 10, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20110112074022/http://www.dvb.no/news/student-army-taken-off-us-terror-list/13645.