Between 1948 and 1962, Burma's parties were mostly socialist in economic orientation. The most important of these was the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), which gained independence for the country and which included within its ranks the distinct Burma Socialist Program Party. The AFPFL governed the country from 1948. In 1958, tensions within the government, and insurgency in the countryside, prompted Prime Minister U Nu to temporarily hand over power to a "caretaker" government headed by General Ne Win. When U Nu's new Union Party won a landslide victory in 1960 elections, Ne Win relinquished power to him. Then on 2 March 1962, Ne Win staged a coup d'etat and began his long rule with the one-party (Burma Socialist Program Party) state.
Other parties before 1962 included two Communist movements, the "White Flags" and the "Red Flags," both of which took up arms early after independence and were later defeated by the government (the White Flags, however, were not completely eradicated until 1975). An above-ground Communist Party existed after 1949 and became the nucleus of the National United Front (NUF) in 1952. Both the Communists and the NUF, like all other parties except the ruling military-dominated Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP), were banned in 1974. The well-armed Communist Party of Burma (CPB) insurgents based themselves primarily in northeast Burma, along the China border. Chinese support for the Communist party of Burma (CPB) continued well after support for the Communist parties of Malaysia and Thailand was withdrawn, but from the mid-1980s aid did not compare with a decade earlier. In 1989 the CPB was overthrown by its troops, many of whom regrouped as the United Wa State Army, which soon signed a cease-fire deal with the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
Burmese independence leader General Aung San had negotiated the Panglong Agreement with representatives of frontier ethnic groups in 1947, but issues of autonomy and federalism have never been resolved. Numerous ethnic parties with armed wings were formed in the mid-to late-twentieth century, including the Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Organization, New Mon State Party, Karenni National Progressive Party, Shan State Progress Party, Arakan Liberation Party, and Chin National Front. Umbrella groups of the ethnic insurgents were established, notably the National Democratic Front, followed by the Democratic Alliance of Burma. In the 1990s, many ethnic organizations signed cease-fire agreements with the SLORC. A continuous demand of the opposition is "tri-partite negotiations" between the SLORC/SPDC junta, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and representatives of the ethnic groups. Most of the ethnic leaders favor a federal union of Burma based on ethnic regions.
The democracy uprising of 1988 ended with the 18 September coup which installed the military officers of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The Burma Socialist Program Party was formally abolished, and all governing authority was concentrated in the hands of the military. The earliest formation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was made up of seventeen active military commanders of the Defense Services. On 18 September 1988 it was renamed the Organization for Building Law and Order in the State (OBLOS) and two more members were added. On 20 September 1988 the final version of the SLORC government was formed by maintaining the 19 members and adding two nonmembers to the Cabinet, increasing the number of Cabinet ministers from seven to nine. On 24 September 1988 the BSPP was reborn as the National Unity Party (NUP), inheriting the buildings and machinery of the old BSPP. Allied to the NUP were satellite parties, the former supporters of the BSPP.
On 24 September 1988 the National League for Democracy (NLD), a coalition party, was formed in opposition to the military regime. Leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Gyi soon parted ways over the latter's accusations of communist infiltration of the NLD. On 28 August 1988 U Nu at age 83, with his followers from the older generation formed the League for Democracy and Peace (LDP), latter known as the League for Democracy. The NLD won the 27 May 1990 elections by a landslide, electing 392 candidates; the NUP took 10 seats; the UNDP and the Democracy Party took 1 seat each; and the LDP did not win any seats. In April/May 1991 the Election Commission dropped the names of the NLD's General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Tin Oo from a roster of NLD leaders, as well as the names of all other Central Executive Committee members who were jailed. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest from 20 July 1989 to 10 July 1995, and again from 2 September 2000 to 6 May 2002. NLD members have been detained and imprisoned in ever-increasing numbers, and many have been pressured to renounce their membership at public rallies of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity Defense Association (USDA) a mass organization formed in September 1993 to support the ruling military.
Dr. Sein Win of the Party for National Democracy, winner of a seat in Pegu District, and seven NLD members legitimately elected to parliament but not recognized by SLORC, fled to border areas and formed a parallel government, the National Coalition Government Union of Burma (NCGUB). Sein Win was named prime minister of the NCGUB, which is now headquartered in Washington, D.C., where it serves as a diplomatic vehicle for the international exiled Burmese democracy movement.
On 29 January 1992 SLORC appointed additional ministers, mostly serving or ex-military, to the original nine-member cabinet, and three new military commanders were added to the original nineteen-member SLORC. Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992. He was replaced as Chairman of SLORC by General Than Shwe on 23 April 1992. Than Shwe was named Chief of State and Head of the Government. First Secretary is Major-General Khin Nyunt and Second Secretary was Major-General Tin Oo, until his death in a helicopter crash in February 2002. Lt.-Gen. Win Myint is the other secretary of the SPDC. The SLORC changed its name to State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997. The National Convention, aimed at drafting a new constitution has been suspended, and the NLD withdrew from the process in protest at its being used to legitimize the junta. Other parties have objected to the National Convention's insensitivity to ethnic rights issues.