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British Government Statement:
Policy In Burma, May 1945


The considered policy of His Majesty's Government of promoting full self -government in Burma has frequently been declared. It Is and has consistently been our aim to assist her political development till she can sustain the responsibilities of complete self-government within the British Commonwealth and consequently attain a status equal to that of the Dominions and of this country.

2. Inevitably Burma's progress towards full self -government has been interrupted and set back by, the Japanese invasion and the long interval of enemy occupation and active warfare in her territories, during which she has suffered grave damage not only in the form of material destruction but in a shattering of the foundations of her economic and social life. It is, of course, upon these foundations that a political structure rests, and until the foundations are once' again firm the political institutions which were in operation before the Japanese invasion cannot be restored. . . .

3. Until these foundations are restored sufficiently, to enable the first essential political process to be undertaken, that is for a General Election to be held, it is not possible to re-establish a Burmese Government as it existed ill 1941. It is accordingly necessary, so long as the government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the 1935 Act, that recourse should continue to be had to the provisions of Section 139, under which the administration is carried on by the Governor in direct responsibility to His Majesty's Government. . . . But though this initial period of controlled government is necessary., His Majesty's Government are anxious that all the functions of government should not in fact be concentrated in the Governor, but that he should be provided with definite means of obtaining Burmese assistance and advice in the discharge of them and have power to associate with himself representatives of Burmese opinion in executive and legislative capacities. It is proposed, therefore, to take power to introduce by Orders in Council modifications to enable the system of administration authorised by Section 139 as it now stands to be liberalised. It is contemplated that early opportunity will be taken under these proposed powers to establish an Executive Council which, though it might at the outset be a small and mainly official body, could be expanded as opportunity offers by the inclusion in it of non-official Burmese. Such a Council would, pending the revival of normal constitutional methods, give Burmans a share in the administrative task of restoring the economy of their country, subject to the retention of the Governor's powers of supervision and control. . . .

4. . . . It is the intention of His Majesty's Government that when conditions are sufficiently restored to make it possible to hold an election and terminate the operation of Section 139, the normal provisions of the Act (unless amended by the incorporation of temporary provisions which had been found to commend themselves to Burmans) will re-enter into force. A General Election could then be held, and a Legislature formed with the same degree of authority, over the same range of matters as it enjoyed before the Japanese invasion.

5. Government in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1935 having thus been restored, as soon as the conditions in the country permit, a second phase in constitutional development will begin, during which the ground will be prepared for the attainment of full self-government. At the same time the necessary measures for the restoration of Burma's economy beyond the point which must be attained before even the first General Election can be held, would continue and her financial position would progressively develop towards a standard of self-sufficiency.

6. The ultimate objective of His Majesty's Government will be that representatives of the Burmese people, after reaching a sufficient measure of agreement between the various parties and sections, should draw up a Constitution of a type which they themselves consider most suitable for Burma, taking into account not only the British but the other various types of constitution in democratically governed countries. What the machinery for this should be will be a matter for discussion and agreement with representative Burmans. A simultaneous process would be discussion of the content of the agreements to be made with His Majesty's Government on matters on which the latter would have continuing obligations after the establishment of full self-government in Burma.

7. When once the duly appointed representatives of the Burmese people have agreed, in the light of preparatory study of the subject, on the type of constitution most suitable for Burma, and it is clear that the proposed constitution has a sufficient measure of support in Burma to justify endorsement by Parliament, His Majesty's Government will enter into discussions with representatives of Burma with a view to satisfactory agreements being made to enable them to fulfil their continuing obligations and to safeguard any outstanding financial advances made by His Majesty's Government, so that, when the necessary administrative organisation is in existence, and the other arrangements have been completed, full self-government within the British Commonwealth can thereupon be established in Burma proper. The administration of the Scheduled Areas, that is the Shan States and the tribal areas in the mountainous fringes of the country, inhabited by peoples differing in language, social customs and degree of political development from the Burmans inhabiting the central areas, would for the time being be subject to a special regime under the Governor until such time as their inhabitants signify their desire for some suitable form of amalgamation of their territories with Burma proper.

 


Source:

Burma: Statement of Policy by His Majesty's Government, May 1945, Cmd 5535 (London: HMSO, 1945), pp. 9-11


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Paul Halsall, July 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu