- Democracy in Myanmar: A strange new world - The Economist
- Burma's painful democratic rebirth: Min Zin - Foreign Policy
- Even without puppetry, Suu Kyi presidency could have strings attached: Nyein Nyein - The Irrawaddy
- Hope and reality in a new Myanmar: Trevor Wilson - New Mandala
- Christian to lead Upper House in Buddhist Myanmar - UCA News
- Aung San Suu Kyi in the driver's seat, now she must deliver: Gwen Robinson - Nikkei Asian Review
- Myanmar Army 'has vowed and is empowered to protect the Constitution': Ye Htut - RFA
- Suu Kyi urges patience over presidency decision: Press Conference - AFP/Mizzima
- Myanmar: Transition within Transition: Rajiv Bahtia - Gateway House
- Debacle leads to doubtful NLD's ethnic reconciliation policy: Sai Wansai - Shan Herald
- Suu Kyi's party stays mum on choice for president: Nirmal Ghosh - Straits Times
- Weighing Suu Kyi's role in a new political order: Kyaw Zwa Moe - The Irrawaddy
Myanmar’s 8 November 2015 election saw the re–emergence of genuine and widespread voter engagement in contentious party politics. Despite fears of widespread electoral fraud or inaccurate voter lists, the process was generally orderly, violence-free and in accordance with standard procedure.
This new summary paper provides important insight and on the ground observations of the vote from more than 30 foreign and Myanmar scholars, journalists and electoral advisors. The product of a closed-session round table at the University of Yangon’s Department of International Relations in collaboration with the Australian National University’s Myanmar Research Centre, topics covered include party development, voter engagement and the campaign; the efficacy of the electoral process and perceptions of integrity; the management of election results; and the implications of initial outcomes for Myanmar’s ongoing transition.
In his 1968 book "Political Order in Changing Societies", American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote that violence and instability were in large part products of rapid social change and the precipitate entry of new groups into politics, coupled with the slow development of political institutions. Controversially, he also argued that order was a crucial objective in developing societies, and should be viewed separately from the nature of the governments attempting to impose it.....
The NLD's policies will soon be tested, and in a very uncertain environment. Harking back to Huntington, there have been dramatic political, economic and social changes in Myanmar since Thein Sein launched an ambitious reform program in 2011. Also, local institutions are weak. Most suffer from corruption and a lack of expertise. The Tatmadaw remains a powerful influence on Myanmar's internal affairs. The political landscape will thus pose serious challenges for an inexperienced and potentially fractious government that relies heavily for its popular legitimacy, cohesion and policy direction on one person.....
No one can deny Suu Kyi's courage and other sterling qualities, but since being released from house arrest in 2010 she has revealed some other personality traits that seem out of step with the new, more enlightened political order. For example, she has been described as having an autocratic leadership style, refusing to listen to contrary advice, and denying others in the democracy movement opportunities to influence its membership and direction. During the 2015 elections, she effectively reduced other NLD candidates to proxies by severely restricting their roles. After the results were announced she stated that, although denied the presidency by the constitution, she still intended to run the country.....
Should Myanmar's complex problems give rise to instability and violence, as has happened so often in the past, the government will have to respond. Its options will be limited. If faced with renewed fighting by armed ethnic groups, or serious outbreaks of civil unrest, tough measures could be called for. It seems out of character now, but Suu Kyi and the NLD may reluctantly come to agree with Huntington that, in developing societies, order is preferable to the unrestricted exercise of democratic freedoms, and that the degree of government exercised is more important than its nature.
Derek Tonkin writes: A consummate and compelling analysis by Andrew Selth, which merits careful reading. We will soon enter uncharted waters in Myanmar. The going may be rough or smooth, and I would not care to hazard a prediction. The ride though is almost certain to be fascinating.
We are now at the cusp of great change in Burma, rather than simply changes on the surface. Certainly this will be true politically, but I also think this will be the case for Burma's economy as well. A couple of early noticeable changes will be a refocus on agriculture, and much greater investments in 'human capital' via greater spending allocations to health and education. Likewise though, Burma's external image will undergo profound change. Instead of being a land associated with human rights abuses and political crises, I think we will have a country that will be the latest tourist 'must visit', and one that will not raise the red flags of compliance officers from London to Lisbon.
The main barrier to democratization in Myanmar remains the military and its allies. But it is deeply ironic that the generals now represent the only constraint on Ms. Suu Kyi’s burgeoning personal power. The “pro-democracy camp” has no one with the political or moral stature to question the Lady’s decisions.
Perhaps this should come as little surprise. After all, the notion of checks and balances remains unknown in a country that has little experience of democratic traditions or robust civilian institutions. “I do worry about her becoming a dictator,” one journalist in Myanmar told me. “But even so, I’d much rather have her as a dictator than the military.” For now, it would seem that the only person now in a position to hold the Lady to account is the Lady herself.
The Director of the Norwegian Burma Committee (NBC) concludes a wide-ranging interview thus:
"I hope Norwegian policies will change for the better. Many of the projects Norway has supported and invested in the last years are good, and should continue. The problem has been a weak and one-sided policy, and a problematic understanding by some diplomats. Norway had a prominent role in Burma/Myanmar in the ’90s for the right reasons. The Norwegian political U-turn was problematic, and hailed by the military and criticized by Aung San Suu Kyi and many ethnic organizations.
"Norway obviously needs to improve their policy again. Not very honorable and brave at this time, but still very important. The international community should be more willing to support a weak elected government, than a strong non-elected government. And we should understand the opportunities and constraints for an elected government."
Derek Tonkin writes: Audun Aagre is critical of the EU for the same reasons. He is, with respect, not well informed. It is generally the case that development assistance for welfare programmes in the sectors of health and education are funded not through Myanmar Government departments but in cooperative endeavours with NGOs and UN agencies. Audun Aagre also seems unaware that neither Norway nor the EU finally suspended sanctions until this had been agreed in advance with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Like the Burma Campaign UK, it was only to be expected that the NBC would drag its feet, but it is now clear that the decision by Norway and the EU to engage with President Thein Sein's government in defiance of the US "calibration" and "action for action" approach was the right one and gave the President the confidence needed to stage a relatively free and fair election which should bring Suu Kyi and the NLD to power. It is indeed the NBC which needs to change its stance and to show greater political understanding of what has been happening in Myanmar since 2011.
There are many rumours in Myanmar about Mr Than Shwe, his superstitious beliefs and his antipathy to Miss Suu Kyi. One, quoted in the book “Everything is Broken” by Emma Larkin, has his wife in 2007 going for a walk around Shwedagon, Myanmar’s holiest pagoda, with a dog and a pig on leads. The story is widely believed: a dog signifies Monday, a pig Wednesday. Miss Suu Kyi was born on a Tuesday, so the circumambulation would render her powerless. Even now, after a peaceful and triumphant election, when things are going far better than anyone had dared hope, some worry that this is still the old soldier’s aim.
After 20 years of unbalanced ties under the military government and five years of turbulent corrections under the Thein Sein government, China and Myanmar are standing at a historic moment with a genuine opportunity to make their relationship truly normal. It will require supreme political wisdom, courage and leadership from both governments. Neither will get everything they want, but both will benefit from dialogue and cooperation. China should understand that an NLD government will be more responsive to the people’s will and accept the new political reality in Myanmar. And the NLD government should seek maximum strength from popular support for its policies, since that is the last thing China can defeat with coercion and/or economic enticement.
Derek Tonkin writes: A consummate, peruasive and constructive presentation of the challenges facing the bilateral relationship.
One of the hackneyed themes of contemporary Myanmar politics, repeated so often and so rarely questioned that it seems a truism, is the supposed conflict between the Burman majority and the various other ethnic groups lumped under the labels Kachin, Chin, Karen, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, and Kayah. Fog of ethnicity weighs on Myanmar's future
A similarly repeated truism is that the central government and army are dominated by the Burman group (also known as the Bama or Bamar), which is set on obliterating the ethnic diversity of the country through a process known as Burmanization. These related themes are advanced to justify the persistence of nearly perpetual low-level guerrilla warfare between the central government and armed groups that adopt the names of the various ethnic groups.
Can this simplistic account of Myanmar's politics be questioned? If so, how? Well, for one thing, the Nov. 8 elections which produced an overwhelming majority for the National League for Democracy, a party often described as an essentially Burman organization no different from the governing establishment it is to replace, suggests that ethnicity is not as salient in Myanmar's politics as these cliched themes suggest. Read more....
Democracy in Burma: A long way to go
"Despite these tensions [over Chinese interference across the border], and the unpopularity of the Chinese among the Burmese public, China remains in a good position to help foster much-needed economic growth in Myanmar. The new government must fix its frayed ties with Beijing, while resisting Chinese attempts to exert too much pressure on its smaller neighbor. One of the few areas where the junta excelled was in maintaining the nation’s sovereignty, and seeking the generals’ advice on this subject might be beneficial both for Myanmar and for the NLD-Tatmadaw relationship.
"The NLD will confront many other challenges, from reaching a peace treaty with insurgent ethnic groups to restructuring the courts and reforming the public health-care and education systems. After half a century of inept military rule, there are few aspects of political, social, and economic life that are not in need of wholesale reform. Even with the assistance of the international community, this will be no easy task, and the new government will have to temper the hopes of an expectant population. Suu Kyi and her party have only passed the first hurdle."
There is a common misperception that even Burma’s first, 1947 Constitution, barred persons married to foreign citizens from becoming the country’s president or vice president. I first heard this from Rangoon-based foreign diplomats in the 1990s, and some of them also claimed it was Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, who had insisted that such a clause should be written into the Constitution. By pinning it on him, the generals wanted to show that his own daughter was going against his wishes.
If the diplomats I met had actually read the 1947 Constitution, they would have found out that all that was crude propaganda, at the time spread by Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, the strongman of the then ruling junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council. But the misperception has lived on, and I heard it most recently from a Rangoon taxi driver - himself a supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) - when I was there to cover the Nov. 8 election.....
In 2008, Burma’s generals got the Constitution they wanted and the NLD’s election victory is unlikely to affect the country’s fundamental power structure with the military at its apex. All that can be done now is to put the record straight and see the difficulties that lie ahead. Any attempt to change the 2008 Constitution would put the NLD on a direct collision course with the military, for among the charter’s “Basic Principles” is a strong pledge: “The Defense Services is mainly responsible for safeguarding the Constitution.”
Derek Tonkin writes. I agree with the main thrust of Bertil Lintner's article. But I have thought it only right to point to his lack of attention to the accuracy of quoted texts and historical detail in the commentary at this link which I have sent to The Irrawaddy for publication.
A big guessing game is under way. Who will be the next President of Myanmar? Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says she has already made up her mind, but won’t say anything until after her Cabinet is formed. However, only the President can appoint a Cabinet after his (or her) selection. Suu Kyi can nominate her Cabinet at any time, even now. So what does she mean?....
Suu Kyi’s main aim at present though is not to discuss the myriad of problems which are currently being highlighted in forums, seminars and workshops both inside Myanmar and around the world. It is rather to secure an amendment to the Constitution, before it is too late. That means persuading the Commander-in-Chief to instruct his men who occupy 25% of the seats in Parliament to agree to a minor change to Clause 59(f) to delete the reference to foreign children and their foreign spouses. But he is likely to do so only if he can be persuaded that it is safe to do so; that is, that the interests, political, economic and military, of the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) are not put at risk....
Suu Kyi then has the difficult, but not impossible task of persuading the Tatmadaw, through the Commander-in-Chief, that if they are seriously interested in a genuine coalition of political forces in the national interest during the next five-year parliamentary term, then it is vital for her to be selected as President.
- Chatham House audio record of speeches on "Assessing the Outcome" - 18 November 2015
- Chatham House audio record of discussion on "Assessing the Outcome" - 18 November 2015
- Myanmar after the elections: uncharted waters - Rita Payne ETN Travel
- Thein Sein, Min Aung Hlaing agree to meet Suu Kyi separately on 2 December - The Irrawaddy
- The road less travelled - The Economist
The 2015 general election results look similar to the results of the 1990 election, the last
time that the NLD was allowed to stand. On both occasions, the incumbent military affiliated
party was thrashed and the NLD won just short of 80 per cent of the seats.
This time round, despite open elections for local parliaments and the spread of more
freely expressed minority identity, ethnic parties’ performance was patchy at best. The
only exceptions to NLD domination were in Shan State, where various ethnic parties
performed quite well, and in Rakhine State.
The reasons for this overall pattern relate to the strength of the NLD and the weakness of
most ethnic parties. Many ethnic parties were unable to compete. If they are to prosper in
future, they may need to form stronger alliances and build up their local networks.
Unpredictable future factors include the possibility that ethnic armed organisations will
seek to enter the local political arena if peace talks make headway. The striking success
of the NLD and the failure of many ethnic parties may make them wary of agreements to
replace armed struggle with peaceful democratic processes.
Positively, perhaps, the election results suggest that the broad goals represented by Aung
San Suu Kyi were more attractive than the parochial interests of specific local groups.
Minorities are not necessarily any more inward-looking than others in Myanmar. Most
people in ethnic states do not live in isolated upland villages. Mass media, increased
literacy in the Burmese language, and high levels of migration mean that many minority
communities are engaged in the national and even international spheres.
The extent of the electoral loss suffered by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has surprised many observers, including the most high-profile members of the party themselves. Among the old guard of the former junta and the hybrid government that succeeded in 2011, many faced a humiliating defeat, including Thura Shwe Mann, the outgoing speaker of the lower house, Wai Lwin and Hla Min, two former defense ministers, and Htay Oo, the party chief.
Out of the 170-odd retired military officers (including about 150 USDP members) who were candidates to an elective office on November 8, only 28 have been able to secure a seat in one of the sixteen upcoming legislative bodies. A few prominent retired officers and local strongmen retained their seats or were elected for the first time, and will sit in the new legislature starting January. In that respect, the triangular relations between the last bit of these USDP politicos (especially those with a military background), the massive National League Democracy (NLD) parliamentary bloc and the 388 military-appointed legislators, under full control of the top brass of the armed forces, or Tatmadaw, will be interesting to follow. Read more.....
The writer takes a hard look at investment prospects in Myanmar in the wake of the elections and concludes:
"In the coming months, the U.S. administration will be paying very close attention to Myanmar's transition. It might be hoped that, by way of encouragement and even before the end of 2015, the administration could give an earnest indication of its intention to soften restrictions.
"In the past, the U.S. faithfully heeded the tough line that Aung San Suu Kyi took on sanctions, but this has already long ceased to be NLD policy. If her new administration is to succeed, the U.S. will need to provide practical support over business finance and investment flows. President Barack Obama has the power to issue executive orders waiving congressional legislation, but whether he is willing to use it with U.S. elections next November remains to be seen.
"The U.S. would surely not wish to be seen to be primarily responsible for any stagnation in business and investment in the nascent democracy that Myanmar now represents."
International Comment in the Nikkei Asian Review following the Elections
- After landslide victory comes the hard part: Richard Horsey - Nikkei Asian Review
- Now comes Aung San Suu Kyi's true test of leadership - Vikram Nehru
- New realities shape big questions - Gwen Robinson
- Myanmar is a new beacon of democracy - Michael Vatikiotis
The writer notes that: "In effect, if the terms of the constitution are adhered to, the new political order will constitute a form of dyarchy, or shared government. Regardless of Suu Kyi's contention before the election that she would choose and direct the new president if her party won a clear parliamentary majority, once the president is chosen, the buck stops with that official leader."
He examines in this context relevant British dyarchic practice in the 1920s and 1930s and observes: "As leader of the majority party in both houses of parliament, Suu Kyi has proposed a role for herself as both president-maker and president-puppeteer, having declared she will be 'above the president.' This is provocative language to some. It not only contradicts the spirit and meaning of the constitution but also ignores normal human behavior: Once a person becomes used to being called 'Mr. President', there is a natural tendency to balk at taking orders from anyone."
He concludes: "If Suu Kyi really wishes to govern Myanmar, a possible way around the constitutional bar on her doing so would be to bring in a new constitutional convention rather like the French constitution which provides both a president and a prime minister. That is, the new president could appoint her as a minister and she could then be known as the prime minister, chairing the cabinet and speaking with the authority of head of government but not head of state. Then she would be able to run the government, under the president's responsibility to the elected legislature, formally as the president's agent.....What Suu Kyi will do next, how the army interprets her actions, and with what consequences remain pressing but unanswered questions."
Derek Tonkin writes: Article 58 of the Constitution reads: "The President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar takes precedence over all other persons throughout the Republic of the Union Myanmar." Whoever is elected president cannot possibly wish to be seen as a mere puppet or figurehead, unless of course SuuKyi should feel that she is entitled to make a mockery of the Constitution whose Article 59(f) was in the view of many drafted specifically to exclude her from the presidency. But in that case, she would be seen to be putting her own personal ambitions and chagrin at exclusion above the interests of her Party and of the people, who elected her and who are unlikely to welcome renewed political confrontation which has in the past led to military intervention.
Unrealistic expectations abound of what the NLD can accomplish economically. Having no other experience than strongman rule by the military, many in Myanmar believe that a leader’s will immediately translates into action. In a recent television interview, the Lady reinforced that idea, boldly stating: “I will make all the decisions because I’m the leader of the winning party.” It will not be that easy.
Exceedingly poor, Myanmar needs everything. Fifty years of terrible, often brutal, government has left the country without a decent education system, health care, infrastructure, employment opportunities or a functioning legal system. The recently negotiated peace between the central government and many national minorities is fragile. Economic reform will prove particularly difficult.
Governments need to know where they want to go – and how to get there. Yet, there is little evidence that the NLD has established economic goals or considered how to achieve them. Policy discussion was almost entirely absent from an electoral campaign that was about personality and a choice between freedom and continued military-dominated rule.
Aside from emphasizing the agricultural sector, the NLD promises little more than prudence, efficiency and stability. It has not explained how it views the respective roles of the state and the private sector in fostering economic development or the specific measures it proposes to improve the lives of ordinary people. Read more.....
While she has her critics, Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys strong support both inside Myanmar and outside it. Until now, however, her ability to work the levers of power has been heavily circumscribed. The NLD’s expected control of the national parliament opens up a number of intriguing possibilities, but there are still many ways in which the Tatmadaw could make life very difficult for her and the party, if it chose to do so.
Let me point out 10 of the more obvious ones. Read more.....
- Election result may see another change in the Burma/Myanmar name game - Andrew Selth
- Opposition dominates election, but will military yield real power? Doug Bandow - Forbes
Conclusion: "The challenges facing the 70-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi should not be underestimated. She is an icon of democracy but untested as a political leader. She is said to be vague on policy, especially economic matters. She has been too quiet on the need to alleviate the suffering of the 1m Rohingyas, a Muslim minority whom the government has declared stateless and which had no right to vote in last weekend’s poll. She should speak out forcefully against their persecution.
"Myanmar’s election is an uplifting example of democracy in Asia, where political freedom seems to be in retreat. Thailand is run by a military government which took power after a coup; Malaysia is in the midst of a full-blown political crisis; and China is increasingly cracking down on dissidents. Almost 70 years after her father led Burma to independence - and nearly 30 after she returned home from Oxford - Aung San Suu Kyi is giving a renewed chance of freedom to her country. The hope must be that she succeeds."
The country’s adulation of Suu Kyi has reached such a high pitch that, according to several analysts, it has created expectations that the Nobel laureate can’t possibly fulfill. Moreover, there is concern that her iconic status has isolated her and could lead her to make rash decisions as she attempts to lead the new government.
“All these congratulatory telegrams will be pouring in from all over the world,” said Khin Zaw Win, a pro-democracy activist who spent 11 years in a Burmese jail for protesting military rule. “All those messages are going to enlarge her sense of self-confidence. . . . That is not a good thing.” Read more.....
The writers argue that: "Proponents of engagement with the former junta argued for years that Western sanctions on Myanmar were misguided. In fact, by squeezing the regime, they influenced the generals’ calculation of the costs and benefits of a graduated opening. To secure economic investment, they were nudged along the path of political reform by the West and Japan, in a way that helped lead to the country’s historic elections last week."
They conclude: "It would be a mistake for U.S. politicians to say that Myanmar’s new chapter was somehow 'Made in America,' as Clinton has come close to doing. The United States must retain the leverage of targeted sanctions if the generals do not cede power, as occurred under similar circumstances in 1990. But to the extent the Obama administration wants to claim a policy victory, the many self-proclaimed “realists” within its ranks might consider how democracy promotion in Myanmar has advanced hard U.S. strategic and economic interests – and how such a combination of values-based diplomacy and realpolitik could benefit the U.S. national interest elsewhere too."
- Myanmar generals set stage for their own exit: Thomas Fuller - New York Times
- Taking new paths: Bridget Welsh - New Mandala
- With Suu Kyi's rise, China and Myanmar face new relationship: Jane Perlez - The New York Times
- Myanmar's Elections: What now? Sebastian Strangio - The Diplomat
- Myanmar's general election: A new era - The Economist
- Burma: Democracy with an asterisk: John Feffer - The Nation (US)
In addition, Wednesday’s front-page splash in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, headlined “No Election Delay,” was unequivocal enough to suggest that the postponement idea was not officially sanctioned. More likely, it seems, is that the longtime pariah nation is struggling with the logistics of competently organizing a legitimate ballot under the scrutiny of a largely unfettered press.
The guardians of this system have shown a remarkable capacity for advanced planning, strategy and patience. They have also shown flexibility; an ability to change course if one or another strategies are failing.
Burma’s opposition parties themselves need to develop better long-term strategies and stamp their own vision on an improved system of governance and society. Governance through force and cooption cannot last forever.
Lex Rieffel, Senior Fellow at the Institute, concludes his incisive analysis of the State-owned sector thus: "The state-owned enterprise sector will remain a drag on Myanmar’s economic progress. Bold reforms that may be proposed by the next government will be watered down by the legislature. The military will not cede control to civilians of its most lucrative rent-seeking activities. The woefully neglected education system will not produce enough quality graduates who can become globally competitive enterprise managers.
"We can hope for a miracle: a genuinely civilian government next year that brings the civil war to an end and implements policies that raise household incomes in the rural sector where most of the population resides. But don’t hold your breath."
Drawing on a series of recent interviews, as well as an initial analysis of individual legislative activities performed by Union-level legislators, this paper identifies three types of Burmese parliamentarians with military background: reluctant members of parliament (MPs), dutiful MPs and high-flying MPs.
As they form a vast pool of loyal and relatively well-educated bureaucrats, military retirees are expected to remain a political force in upcoming legislatures as well. Yet, these emerging political elites may prove increasingly heterogeneous and not necessarily aligned with the policy preferences outlined by the next generations of military leaders - or the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
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.
- The Guardian view on Burma, Myanmar and faltering steps towards democracy: Editorial
- Myanmar and the politics of disaster - Nicholas Farrelly: New Mandala
- Ending sexual violence in conflict: Time to Act - British Ambassador Andrew Patrick: The Irrawaddy
- Myanmar: The calm before the storm - Matthew J Walton: New Mandala
The roots of religious conflict in Myanmar
Matt Schissler, Matthew J Walton, Phyu Phyu Thi: The Diplomat - 6 August 2015
Myanmar has been the site of serious conflicts between Buddhist and Muslim communities, particularly in Rakhine State where at least 146,000 persons have been displaced since the first riots in June 2012. This violence has prompted international organizations dedicated to early warning of mass violence to issue alarms, but the dynamics of this conflict are understood differently in Myanmar. In May, three Nobel laureates called violence and persecution of Muslims in Myanmar “nothing less than genocide.” A few days later, U Zaw Aye Maung, the Rakhine Affairs Minister for Yangon Region, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying, “if genocide was taking place in Rakhine State, then it was against ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.”
Such a statement is not simple intransigence in the face of external criticism. It illustrates a conception of victim and violator that is diametrically opposed to the one made visible in international discourse. In Myanmar’s domestic context, such a conception is closer to the norm than otherwise. Other state authorities use similar rhetoric. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, meanwhile, told the BBC in October 2013, “Fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but on the side of the Buddhists as well. There’s a perception that Muslim power, global Muslim power, is very great.”
Myanmar's tycoons: Vested interest resisting reform or agents of change?
Stuart Larkin: ISEAS Perspective - 22 July 2015
A persuasive and well argued presentation, which concludes:
"Myanmar’s tycoons are here to stay. They are reactive and adaptive and have many advantages. They understand how their country works and enjoy relationships with the ruling class that in many cases go back several decades; they have the local knowledge and know how to get things done. Their conglomerates have capital as well as some managerial, organizational and technical capabilities. They are big enough to compete and collaborate with big international companies. Western donors tend to see them as being part of the problem but not to see a role for the tycoons that makes them part of the solution.
"In reality, Myanmar’s tycoons are a mixed bag, with a range of backgrounds, attitudes and operating styles. To dismiss tycoons as “cronies” overlooks their potential contribution to development. Myanmar needs a government which understands this and is capable of selecting the right tycoons to work with. The specific task at hand is the rapid establishment of a pipeline of “shovel ready” projects to take advantage of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance when it becomes operational. For a country that sits at the bottom of Asia’s poverty tables, a “results driven” rather than a “process driven” approach to development is to be welcomed."
Derek Tonkin writes: Apart from the US, Western Governments have now rescinded all economic and financial sanctions apart from the export licensing of arms and military equipment. The US Administration, under Republican congressional pressure, retains sanctions against SDNs (Specially Designated Nationals) but this is mainly for domestic political reasons, designed to ensure that President Obama's declared policy "success" over Myanmar should be questioned if at all possible. However, these continuing sanctions, although limited, impinge on Western investment generally since US$ transfers into Myanmar normally transit New York where they are likely to be impounded if it is suspected that the recipient in Myanmar has any association with a listed SDN, even though the funds are not of US origin or are not related to any US investment interest.
Today, as Myanmar embraces change, many foreign words are being imported wholesale, but their meanings are getting lost in translation. Read more....
- Myanmar's permanent secretaries reflect some permanent interests: David Steinberg - Nikkei Review
- Myanmar's military keeps firm grip on democratic transition: Vikram Nehru - Carnegie Endowment
- Aung San Suu Kyi - Where are you? Jonah Fisher - BBC Asia News
- Burma's Revolution from Below: Elliott Presse-Freeman - Foreign Policy 20 April 2015
"It has left Suu Kyi with an inescapable paradox: if she doesn't personally and publicly lobby for the constitution to change before the election, then nobody else will, since 'people are not ready to go to the barricades for her,' as a respected Burmese venture capitalist said to me. But if she repeatedly lobbies (as she has) for the constitution to change merely to allow her to run for president, she risks looking like she only cares about herself - which is exactly what's happening. As a long-time ambassador from the Middle East puts it, her continual petitioning has led many to think, 'She is self-centered and likes to lecture. She likes to play the role of being a symbol'."
"The disappointment felt by many former supporters was summed up by lawmaker U Thein Nyunt, who told a journalist last year, 'We've followed her leadership for two decades, but she's failed to get any results for her country. It is obvious now that she is not considering the people, but only her own power.'
"The Lady still uses the image of her father as often as possible. But maybe, deep in her heart, she believes that she'll never be in a position to make real change until she's President. Maybe being hailed as her nation's savior is more pressure than she, or many of us, could live up to. Or maybe the substance of Aung San Suu Kyi never really matched the symbol - and the West would do well to see that Myanmar is much more than The Lady."
Derek Tonkin writes: This closely argued and persuasive article merits careful reading. Stanley Weiss has dared to say what might well be in the minds of many. But though no longer the darling of the business class and intelligentsia, Suu Kyi still commands respect and support among Burman (as contrasted with non-Burman) voters. A vote for the NLD candidate will still be seen by many as a vote for Suu Kyi who stood up to the Generals at great personal cost.
Important reconciliation and progress has been started in national politics under the government of President Thein Sein. But as the countdown accelerates towards a general election later this year, there is a risk that political reform and ethnic peace are faltering. To avoid this, clear markers must be agreed of processes of democratic reform and ethnic peace that guarantee the rights and involvement of all peoples and parties.
Constitutional reform and nationwide peace will be essential, and it is vital that the conduct of the general election is free and fair to ensure momentum in political reform. An inclusive political dialogue must be fostered at the national level to move beyond the practice of different parliamentary processes and ethnic ceasefire talks that do not provide a political roadmap for all citizens.
- Citizenship, ethnicity and electioneering: Eliott Brennan - Lowy Interpreter
- Thein Sein committed to charter reform talk - Democratic Voice of Burma
- Lukewarm response to latest 48-Party confab - The Irrawaddy
- A hopeful moment for civil society in Myanmar: Andrew Morgan - New Mandala
- A failing engagement with Burma - Washington Post Editorial
- Have patience with progress in Burma - David Steinberg responds
- Burma is moving toward democracy - Danny Russel, Tom Malinowski
- Bertil Lintner: Reforms have run their course - DVB Interview
- Backsliding on reform in Burma - New York Times Editorial
Amidst this gathering momentum, the year-end elections represent a sense of finality and with it, much uncertainty. The finality of the election deadline looms as there is not much time left to see through key initiatives. It remains to be seen whether President Thein Sein will offer himself up for re-election, and whether he can gain support.
Suu Kyi remains immensely popular within the country. Yet respect has grown for the efforts made by the current president and his administration. Many in the business community and among foreign investors will be keen to see continuity and stability for reforms, and hope for greater speed in the country's progress after the elections. In contrast, others may wish the 2015 elections to deliver change.
Desire in the West, especially, is not just for free and fair voting, but for the country to emerge as a full-fledged democracy. Neither view may be correct. Judging the country's progress purely according to political change and democracy may be overly idealistic. But emphasising the path of business-as-usual may fail to recognise the need for a more rapid and also steady reform. Myanmar's opening was always about both political and economic challenges, and their interplay will continue.
"Constitutional matters are just the tip of the iceberg. Whoever becomes president will confront a multitude of dangerous issues. Three are worth singling out.
- One is reaching a settlement with the ethnic minorities. Without genuine federalism the project of building what is essentially a new country after half a century of sporadic civil war will be doomed.
- Second, more effort must be made to spread the fruits of economic growth. The perception - and most likely the reality - is that the lion’s share of impressive growth is going to a few businessmen, many of whom got rich during the military era.
- Third, the authorities must get a firmer grip on rising religious tension, most of it directed against the Muslim minority.
In Rakhine state, Muslims continue to be treated abominably. Instead of pandering to Buddhist chauvinism, the new government must set a more tolerant tone and ensure that Muslims are not treated as second-class citizens in their own country. Myanmar could yet be seen as a model transition. Much depends on what the generals do next."
Latest Views and Op-Eds
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- Disappointment with 2015 Elections and constitutional change - CP Kuppuswamy
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Despite the headlines, progress in Myanmar isn't slipping away
Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Richard Horsey: Reuters-Blog - 19 November 2014
Is Myanmar’s reform effort going into reverse?
Not even close. Yet if international support for its political transition seriously weakens in the face of recent setbacks, the prophecies of Myanmar’s critics may be fulfilled. The international community needs to show staying power and accept that the road to reform is long.
Myanmar is four years into a transition from 50 years of authoritarian rule and chronic, grinding civil conflicts. That change was never going to be easy. We should not be surprised that certain areas remain problematic or new difficulties arise.
Bad-news stories about Myanmar’s transition are easy to find. But the good-news stories reflect a broader trend. There is now substantial freedom of the press, for example, when not long ago there was no space for independent media. Nearly all political prisoners from the era of military government have also been released. Continue reading.....
Derek Tonkin writes: A welcome antidote to the flurry of negative reporting, mostly by US media, of the present "bumpy patch" in the democratisation process in Myanmar. It might have been helpful if participants in the lack-lustre debate on Human Rights in Myanmar in the UK House of Commons on 19 November 2014 had first read this article.
Myanmar's Transition: Economics or Politics
Gwen Robinson: Transitions Forum - November 2014
While the West’s attention focused on reported military abuses in Kachin state, the plight of stateless Muslim “Rohingya” in the country’s west, and the exclusion of some Muslim and ethnic groups from Myanmar’s controversial census in early 2014, the government stepped up reforms ranging from consumer protection laws to insurance industry deregulation, transparency in public tender processes, and the opening of banking and other business sectors.
Against this sharply contrasting backdrop, old battle lines between pro- and anti-democratic forces are being redrawn as new rivalries emerge within and between executive and legislative branches. Traditional power centres have eroded or transformed, giving way to multiple forces and an emerging “new order” of leaders who will shape Myanmar’s future.
Little choice but to support reformists in Myanmar
Nirmal Ghosh: Straits Times Asia Report - 10 November 2014
President Thein Sein is beset by powerful competing forces and international opinion that remains fixated on the bad news and the role of Aung San Suu Kyi. Domestic problems also weigh heavily on President Obama as his Democratic Party lost control of the US Senate last week.
With just two years of the Obama presidency left, analysts expect increased gridlock in Washington. And ironically, while Myanmar rings with clamours for more democracy, Mr Obama faces a public that has grown cynical about the genuineness and effectiveness of America’s democracy.
But Myanmar’s political transition, if somewhat shaky, remains a foreign policy success and the US is unlikely to yank the welcome mat from under President Sein Thein.
Derek Tonkin writes: A breath of fresh air, a welcome contrast to the unrelieved litany of criticism and complaint from human rights activists and US politicians.
Priscilla Clapp concludes: "The journey from deeply entrenched military oppression to sustainable democracy is long and winding and we cannot expect it to be accomplished overnight. If the US wishes to assist in tackling the country’s deep‐seated problems, such as continuing human rights abuses, land management, ethnic and religious conflict, and the military role in governance, it must remain engaged and not relegate itself to the sidelines with reimposition of sanctions and other policy measures that limit US assistance."
Healing a wounded country
Banyan: The Economist - 8 November 2014
Banyan examines the political stasis in Myanmar, the halting transformation from military to civilian rule and the possibility that the country could become a political issue in the US in the presidential elections in 2016.
On Aung San Suu Kyi, Banyan concludes: "Now she needs to do what politicians do, and find a way of reassuring her opponents, the army and its civilian proxies that a fair election and an NLD victory will not be the end of the world for them. That is hard if they barely talk to her, and when they do it is in a formal setting allowing no give and take. When Miss Suu Kyi was honoured in America’s Congress in 2012, Mrs Clinton made a speech, likening her to Nelson Mandela and in which she praised both for having realised that 'overcoming the past, healing a wounded country, building a democracy, would require moving from icon to politician.' The trouble is that too many others, including, it seems, the American government, prefer the icon and will not let her be a politician."