Burmese scholar Andrew Huxley’s 1998 article on Burmese law elaborates the challenges that post-independence Burmese jurists faced while attempting to reconstruct Burmese law. Given the way the British intentionally destroyed Burma’s robust legal culture, jurists like Maung Maung and E Maung asked whether it was possible to reanimate those institutions, which could return to the glorious Buddhist tradition (especially after the formal incorporation of non-Buddhists).
Moreover, Maung Maung inquired as to what precisely were the political and social values that would animate these institutions. As he wrote back in 1962, “for although it is acknowledged that the laws must conform to the customs and march together with them, it is not always clear what are the customs of the peoples of Myanmar (Burma) today.”
Both Huxley and Maung Maung could be writing about Burma right now: the military prevented the Burmese polity from collectively expressing, debating, and refining goals and values for a half-century. The irony is that rule of law talk now risks shutting down this conversation before it could again get started.
It tells the people, in essence, that there’s a certain perfect and prescribed way to do things that can come readily packaged from the outside – Suu Kyi explicitly asks Yale Law School for help designing Burmese law, she requested that Columbia professors help Burmese parliamentarians – and that hence the role for the people in politics is as silent partner.