An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
In a wide-ranging article on the present situation in Myanmar, Hugo Swire, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made a number of points, including:
- 2015 could be the most important year in Burma's recent history. The November general elections are the litmus test for the reform process which began in 2011. Successful elections would consolidate a remarkable, peaceful transition from dictatorship.
- I agree that there have been major setbacks in Burma's transition over the last year. We have seen a shrinking of the democratic space, numbers of political prisoners again on the rise, ongoing instances of sexual violence in conflict affected areas, and the introduction of potentially discriminatory legislation on race and religion.
- Of all the human rights concerns in Burma, the appalling treatment of the Rohingya community remains the most worrying. For a community already struggling with a lack of basic human rights, the removal of 'white card' identity documents this year - and the prospect of disenfranchisement - has clearly been a moment of great distress.
- Since 2011, thousands of political prisoners have been released, a vibrant media has emerged from decades of absolute press control and a flourishing civil society scene has developed. You can see and feel this on the streets of Rangoon.
- The peace process, while not at all straight-forward, is closer to bringing a nationwide ceasefire than at any time since Burma's independence, and hundreds of child soldiers have been released.
- Some have questioned, in particular, our engagement with the military. I cannot see how Burma can make genuine political progress without the buy-in of the military, who remain a powerful force in Burma.
- I know there will be huge interest here in the elections in November. The international community must do everything it can to support the next milestone in Burma's remarkable journey.
Abstract: The West celebrated the promise of democratic reforms for Myanmar after a new government was installed in 2011. The military signaled its desire to restore relations with the West, ending crippling sanctions while reducing excessive reliance on neighboring China. Observers in the West had pointed to the speaker of the Lower House of Myanmar’s bicameral parliament as a “bridge” linking Myanmar’s rulers with reformers, explains journalist Bertil Lintner. The abrupt ouster of Shwe Mann suggests that the military is not about to let power shift to civilian control. The military has a lock on power: 25 percent of the seats in the country’s parliament and regional assemblies are set aside for the military; changes to the country’s power structure require 75 percent approval. The United States grumbles about what may have been the plan all along from Myanmar's leaders. China is content to go along with what may be a charade, sticking to its policy of refusing to interfere with others' internal power struggles.
Derek Tonkin writes: Two interpretations of the significance of recent events. I tend to support Bertil Lintner's. Shwe Mann has had his wings clipped, and although he clearly still has a measure of support among USDP parliamentary representatives, after the elections it will not be the same USDP team in parliament. He is unlikely to remain Speaker for long, while his presidential hopes look doomed.
Buddhism and Islam in Myanmar
- Protecting the Rohingya Muslims in Burma: Senator Raynell Andreychuk (Canada) - The Diplomat
- The threat of Myanmar's extremist monks: Oren Samet - New Mandala
- The truth about Myanmar's discriminator laws: Michael Caster - The Diplomat
As election nears, survey offers insight into voters' views
The Irrawaddy - 24 August 2015
Researchers deployed by the Taiwan-based Asian Barometer Survey polled 1,620 respondents across all 14 of Burma’s states and divisions, taking a representative sample of the country at large and asking more than 200 questions on political, economic and social views. Asian Barometer Survey worked with the Yangon School of Political Science to conduct the survey from January to March 2015. Its full results are due to be released later this year.The survey results are not without surprises:
- Respondents were almost evenly split on whether the military should retain a role in politics, with 39 percent in favor and 40 percent against.
- While noting that half of all respondents declined to express a party preference, 24 percent nationwide said they would vote NLD, compared with 16 percent who said they would choose the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
- Asked to state their preferred president, 26 percent nationwide said Suu Kyi, compared with 16 percent who supported incumbent Thein Sein, though again those declining to answer (54 percent) leave plenty of room for interpretation.
- Despite their preference for Suu Kyi, 80 percent of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with Thein Sein’s performance.
- Asked whether economic development or democracy was more important, 53 percent said the former, compared with 30 percent who preferred the latter.
"The military formed the USDP as its own organisation, so they consider the USDP’s internal affairs an extension of their own internal affairs.
"However, this is unlikely to be the end of the issue. The military considers this a rebellion, and when the time is right they will move against Thura U Shwe Mann."
Asked if she was confident of winning a dominant share of seats Suu Kyi replied: "If the elections are free and fair, of course."
But the veteran campaigner, who was held for years under house arrest by the former military government, said she was also "very concerned" about irregularities in the run-up to the polls, stressing that the long-cloistered country still has a long way to go before it can be called democratic.
Derek Tonkin writes: The nominee could of course be Suu Kyi herself. That could be a way to throw down the gauntlet.There is no pre-condition that the nominee should be eligible according to the Constitution.
Turmoil at the top prompts business uncertainty
The Irrawaddy - 24 August 2015
Current economic anxieties in Burma come on the back of a weak kyat that has been in steady decline against the US dollar since May. Consequently, demand for the dollar has increased and the Myanmar Central Bank has been forced to lessen reliance on black market currency trading by selling US dollars to private exchange counters.
Senior researcher Tin Maung Than of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute said Burma’s economy was particularly vulnerable when shifts in the political landscape occurred. Good business conduct had yet to be established, he said.
“There is no rule of law if there are no established [modes of] conduct and institutions. If there is no institutional governance… the economy will be impacted whenever political turmoil arises,” he added. Read more.....
Derek Tonkin writes: It is reasonable to assume that in the run-up to the elections foreign investors will take no decisions of substance, but will await not only the outcome of the elections themselves but also the nature of the Administration which will be established by the new President. This is most likely to be a military nominee, either the incumbent President, at least for a time, or another senior figure who is persona grata with the military.
In any case, the looming global financial crisis stemming from the collapse of share prices in China will give investors cause to be particularly cautious about new investments anywhere in Asia in the short to medium term.
The likelihood that the National League for Democracy will replace the Union Solidarity and Development Party as the majority elected party in the legislature will significantly boost the NLD's influence in the Union Parliament, but there is little or no prospect of an NLD sponsored or supported president emerging, now that the Speaker Shwe Mann has fallen from grace. The immediate future, though, is opaque and we should expect the unexpected.
Mr. Shwe Maung’s plight is but one example of what appears to be the mass disenfranchisement of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority who number around one million in Myanmar. David Scott Mathieson, a Myanmar expert with Human Rights Watch, called the exclusion of the Rohingya “a dark cloud over the democratic integrity of the elections over all. This is the government really stripping them of their last right,” Mr. Mathieson said. “It suits the government’s long-term plan of compelling them to leave.”
Derek Tonkin writes: As the election approaches, we may expect more Kafkaesque moments of this kind. The NLD's electoral denial of the Student Generation Group and the purge of Thura Shwe Mann as Chairman of the majority USDP are two more such moments.
- Courting of Rohingya in 2010 comes back to haunt USDP - Myanmar Times
- Rohingya MP and Mandalay doctor barred from contesting November election - The Irrawaddy
- Barred Rohingya MP says he will fight to stand in election - Reuters
Extract: As the elections approach, more questions are being asked about the longevity of “The Lady”, Win Htein’s boss. Suu Kyi turned 70 in June and, as she dives deeper into civilian politics, she is having to spend more time denying longstanding accusations that her personal dominance has stifled the growth of her party and the emergence of potential successors. Win Htein acknowledges the party’s degree of dependence on the woman also known as Daw Suu is “not healthy”. He also admits some critics’ perceptions that her international upbringing can make her seem at times remote from less privileged citizens may be “partly true”.
“She’s a phenomenon,” he says, recalling some of his early trips around the country with her. “Suppose that on our way up-country, our car broke down in a small town. We would stop and wait for the repair sitting in a tea shop. When the people learnt that she was there, children, women, men and everybody came to just meet with her. That kind of attraction is very rare, that kind of charisma.”
- I would say this is impossible [involvement of retired General Than Shwe in politics].....There is no influence whatsoever being exerted by retired Gen. Than Shwe.
- The Tatmadaw must stand up for the government, and we are helping Thein Sein's government in the work of successfully rebuilding our country. Although I am the head of the military, Thein Sein is the head of state, so I have to work under his leadership.
- Regarding the recent political changes....Our military is not involved. All this is speculation, I would say.
- We are marching toward a parliamentary democracy....This will happen when the ethnic groups come into the legal fold.
- Our three main tasks: non-disintegratioin of the Union, non-disintegration of national unity and perpetuation of national sovereignty..... May be in five or ten years [we can start to withdraw from politics].
The military is moving forward guided by rules and discipline. I also think that people's opinion of the military is improving and is now much better than before.
I didn't say 'I want to become president if the people support me.' What I said was I would think about it.....
If President Thein Sein wants to serve for another term, he can do this with the help of his supporters. We [in the military] have nothing to say about this.
Whoever leads the nation should be a real citizen of Myanmar.....It would be better if this person has no relatives - sons, daughters-in-law, or grandchildren - who are foreigners.
I'm not saying we don't commit crimes or violate the rules. We do. But we take effective action against those who do these things.