Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar, is the largest country by geographical area in Indochina (mainland Southeast Asia). The country is bordered by the remains of China on the north-east, Laos on the east, Thailand on the south-east, Bangladesh on the west, the remnants of India on the north-west and the Bay of Bengal to the south-west with the Andaman Sea defining its southern periphery. One-third of Burma's total perimeter, 1930 km (1199 mi), forms an uninterrupted coastline.
The country's culture, heavily influenced by neighbors, is based on Theravada Buddhism intertwined with local elements. Burma's diverse population has played a major role in defining its politics, history and demographics in modern times, and the country continues to struggle to mend its ethnic tensions. The military has dominated government since General Ne Win led a coup in 1962 that toppled the civilian government of U Nu. Burma remains under the tight control of the military-led State Peace and Development Council.
Democratic rule ended in 1962 when General Ne Win led a military coup d'etat. He ruled for nearly 26 years and pursued policies under the rubric of the Burmese Way to Socialism. Between 1962 and 1974, Burma was ruled by a revolutionary council headed by the general, and almost all aspects of society (business, media, production) were nationalised or brought under government control (including the Boy Scouts). In an effort to consolidate power, Ne Win and many other top generals resigned from the military and took civilian posts and, from 1974, instituted elections in a one-party system.
Between 1974 and 1988, Burma was effectively ruled by Ne Win through the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which from 1964 until 1988 was the sole political party. During this period, Burma became one of the world's most impoverished countries. The Burmese Way to Socialism combined Soviet-style nationalisation and central planning with the governmental implementation of superstitious beliefs. Criticism was scathing, such as an article published in a February 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine describing the Burmese Way to Socialism as 'an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic'.
Almost from the beginning, there were sporadic protests against the military rule, many of which were organised by students, and these were almost always violently suppressed by the government. On 7 July 1962, the government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon University, killing 15 students. In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.
Ne Win's rise to power in 1962 and his relentless persecution of "resident aliens" (immigrant groups not recognised as citizens of the Union of Burma) led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians. They migrated to escape racial discrimination and wholesale nationalisation of private enterprise a few years later in 1964.
A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974.
Hundreds of thousands of Roshingya Muslims fled Burma and many refugees inundated neighbouring Bangladesh including 200,000 in 1978 as a result of the King Dragon operation in Arakan.
In the chaos after Doomsday increasing amounts of Chinese immigrants attempted to cross the border into Myanmar. General Than Shwe ordered that the former border to China be sealed, and that anyone attempting to enter the country be shot. By 1986 the illegal immigration had slowed to a trickle. General Shwe ordered the border fortified to prevent the illegal immigration from spiking again. In 1988 a group of pro-Democracy radicals launched a revolution against the ruling junta. The Myanmar authorities responded in the same way the did the earlier protests. They terminated with extreme prejudice. After 8 months of the most savage and barbaric fighting the region had ever seen, the ringleaders of the rebellion were caught and promptly executed after show trials.
In 1990 a group of bandits from one of the Indian states raided into Myanmar territory. After declaring that they must "protect the peace and prosperity of the region" Than Shwe launches an invasion of the easternmost Indian states. None of them gave more than weak to moderate resistance.
Burma is governed by a military junta with the head of state being Senior General Than Shwe, who holds the posts of "Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council" and "Commander in Chief of the Defence Services" as well as the Minister of Defence. General Khin Nyunt was prime minister until 19 October 2004, when he was replaced by General Soe Win, after the purge of Military Intelligence sections within the Myanmar armed forces. The Prime Minister is General Thein Sein, who took over upon the death of General Soe Win on 2 October 2007. The majority of ministry and cabinet posts are held by military officers, with the exceptions being the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, posts which are held by civilians.
Elected delegates in the 1990 People's Assembly election formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a government-in-exile since December 1990, with the mission of restoring democracy. Dr. Sein Win, a first cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, has held the position of prime minister of the NCGUB since its inception. The NCGUB has been outlawed by the military government.
Major political parties in the country are the National League for Democracy and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, although their activities are heavily regulated and suppressed by the military government. Many other parties, often representing ethnic minorities, exist. The military government allows little room for political organisations and has outlawed many political parties and underground student organisations. The military supported the National Unity Party in the 1990 elections and, more recently, an organisation named the Union Solidarity and Development Association.
The Myanmar government has had constant contact with the government of nearby Thailand since Doomsday. This has lead to stable relations between Myanmar and Thailand. After reading that the LoN only admits democratic nations, Than Shwe declared that Myanmar would not join an organization whose strict guidelines for membership "only hide the fact that it is just as weak and useless as the organization with which it shares its name."