An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
"Even the military itself has seemingly embraced these newfound freedoms. As a European ambassador informs me, "We have a military course in NPT that focuses on human rights and the role of the military in a democracy.... They appreciate it, and there are good debates in the classes.... The views at the colonel level are very diverse. These are the people who will be in charge 10 years from now."
One such person--the chief of Myanmar's military, General Min Aung Hlaing--may already be in charge. Though Hlaing's path to becoming Myanmar's most senior general has its troubling aspects, an ambassador here tells me, "He sees himself as the keeper of democracy.... He told me, 'The military used to be above the government, and now we're at same level, and we [the military] have to teach them [the government] to be above us.'" Contrary to the stern and aloof image cultivated by many officers, Hlaing boasts a Facebook page with over 150,000 "likes" and photos of himself smiling, greeting his countrymen, and even parasailing.-
With Hlaing declaring that "the military wants free and fair elections" and "will cooperate in accordance with the law no matter whoever governs ... after 2015," he appears intent not just on improving the military but on gently returning them to the barracks where they belong. A UN official tells me that Hlaing replaced a number of officers in the 25 percent of parliament still reserved for members of the military, believing that "the previous officers he placed there were not capable of voting on their own, so he decided to replace them with thinkers instead."The author offers the following recommendations:
"First, the West must stop viewing the military in black-or-white terms and engage with them directly.
"Second, the U.S. should welcome Myanmar back into the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. While we once brought 167 Burmese soldiers to study and train in America, since the 1988 coup Congress has repeatedly blocked further IMET assistance to the country. Ostensibly intended to punish Myanmar for human rights abuses and prevent further atrocities, by limiting the military's exposure to ideals like the rule of law and civilian authority, these restrictions actually further stunt the country's democratic development.
"Third, we should use the prospect of U.S. military assistance to strengthen the hand of potential reformers like Hlaing. Myanmar is "desperate to have relations with the U.S. military," a friend tells me. "That is the biggest driver with working with the military is to get recognition from the U.S. that they are a professional military.... This is a huge lever."
"If the U.S. is willing to use that lever--and if Myanmar's military continues to embrace reform-maybe some day soon the celebration once known as Resistance Day, now called Armed Forces Day, can finally be called Democracy Day."
The Asian Development Bank Tuesday predicted economic growth in Myanmar will surge by over eight percent for the next two years as it urged the nation to press on with reforms before landmark elections.
Myanmar, which has implemented broad economic and political changes since a half-century of military rule ended in 2011, is expected to see output grow from 7.7 percent in the 12 months to March to 8.3 percent in the 2015 fiscal year, the ADB said. It estimated that gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the fiscal year 2016 would "remain close to this pace".
Access to finance is the top constraint for private enterprises as Myanmar’s economy undergoes market-oriented reforms after emerging from decades of isolation, and addressing this and other challenges will help create a strong private sector to drive the country’s future growth and create much-needed jobs, the World Bank Group’s first Investment Climate Assessment report in Myanmar finds.
Among more than 1,000 foreign and domestic non-agricultural businesses interviewed in the report, merely 1 percent of fixed-asset investment costs are financed by bank borrowing, while 92 percent of firms rely on their own funds – a percentage higher than that of any other comparable country. Difficulties in getting land-use rights, power outages, and inadequate workforce skills are other main barriers to business operation and growth in Myanmar.
A senior member of Myanmar's government has said members of the US-based Carter Center and the European Union will be invited to monitor a general election later this year, the first time in at least 65 years that the country will call in Western poll observers.
"We'll allow the Carter foundation and EU to observe the upcoming general election independently to ensure the election takes place free and fair," Soe Thein, a senior minister at the president’s Office, said at a forum on Monday. "It will be the first general election held under a democratically elected government in many years."
Speaking to BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, Thein Sein said the military had initiated reforms but he put no timeframe on reducing its dominant role in Burmese political life. "It's not true that reforms have stalled because of the military," he said. "The Tatmadaw [Burmese army] does not get involved with political parties and is only concerned with the national interest."
"The military has two tasks. One is to fight for the country in case of war. If there's no war they will serve the interest of the people. Serving the interests of the people means being involved in national politics."
The 69-year-old believes that having initiated the move away from dictatorship, the army remains a necessary part of the transition. "In fact the military is the one who is assisting in the flourishing of democracy in our country," he says. "As the political parties mature in their political norms and practice, the role of the military gradually changes."
The president refused to put a timeframe on a reduction in the military's political role, saying it would be done gradually and in line with the "will of the people". The president said he wouldn't mind the constitution being changed, but that it was up to parliament and then, if necessary, the will of the people in a referendum.
I was told that the eligibility restriction dated back to 1947 and was partly drafted by Aung San Suu Kyi's father. It's a fact hotly contested by Ms Suu Kyi's supporters. "Our country is situated between two populous countries in India and China. So the leaders of our country have always had to safeguard our sovereignty and integrity to avoid being dominated," President Thein Sein said. "These concerns were considered and drafted into our constitution."
Accordingly, Thein Sein is partly right, in the sense that there were “concerns” in 1947 about outside, notably Indian influences. But these “concerns” never extended to the nationality of spouses or children or spouses of children. If the 1947 Constitution were in force today, Suu Kyi would in my view be eligible to be nominated for the presidency, as she meets the only two specific requirements for a presidential candidate in Article 49 of the Constitution by (a) being born in or having both parents born in Burma and (b) being eligible to stand for Parliament under Article 74. The "close family" provisions concerning the presidency in Article 59 (f) of the 2008 Constitution do not exist in either the 1947 or 1974 Constitutions and no official explanation has ever been given as to why these provisions were included in the 2008 Constitution.
In the video excerpt, the President referred to Indonesia as an example of military participation in national politics during a period of transition. Comparisons between Indonesia and Myanmar are not straightforward. In a study published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in August 2010 a table may be found on Page 3 showing that direct Indonesian military representation in Parliament rose from 12.4% in 1960 to 20% in 1987, declining to 7% in 1998 before being phased out altogether by 2004. At no stage was the military representation (ABRI which became TNI) as high as 40% as the President stated. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that the Indonesian military were one of the three main pillars of the "Golkar" party or party of "Functional Groups" which dominated all elections during Suharto's "New Order" regime from 1965 to 1998.