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Latest Opinion and Comment

Gwen Robinson: Nikkei Asian Review - 6 April 2016
True to her reputation for pushing the limits, Suu Kyi and her team played the game right up to the final handover, anointing her chosen "proxy president," Htin Kyaw, and meting out cabinet positions. These initially included four for Suu Kyi, despite declarations that she would be "above the president" and lead the government. 

But beneath the pomp and ceremony of the handover, amid tight smiles and tense handshakes, her administration was poised to blindside the military, known as the Tatmadaw, with a carefully calibrated proposal to redraw the shape of government leadership. Just a day after the ceremony, Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy unveiled proposed legislation to create the position of "state counselor," who would have prime ministerial-style powers and wield authority in both the executive and legislative branches. Read more.....

Myanmar Times: 31 March 2016

Despite the euphoria of yesterday's historic handover, the reality is that President U Htin Kyaw's administration takes office at a time when the country is facing a range of economic, political, and social challenges. The Myanmar Times has surveyed 10 of the most significant hurdles the new government will face as it seeks to achieve its policy pledges and meet the high expectations of the voters who put it in power.

Robert H Taylor: ISEAS 'Trends in Southeast Asia' No.3 2016

Spokespersons for the ethnic armed groups continue to speak the language of ethnic rights and a federal army, while the government talks about reaching material and administrative agreements and the army insists that there can only be one army. These debates echo the past, going back to the formation of Myanmar in the late 1940s.

In order to break the apparently endless debate about federalism, ethnicity, states and divisions in the Union of Myanmar, perhaps a new approach might be considered - taking federalism a step further to the seventy-four district levels of administration. As the ethnically designated armed groups operate in relatively small and localized areas, a solution that squares the circle between ethnicity and territory might have appeal.

Nirmal Ghosh: The Straits Times - 26 March 2016

Earlier this month, as NLD Members of Parliament gathered in Naypyitaw to nominate Mr Htin Kyaw, a Suu Kyi loyalist, for president, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was about 30km away, visiting the armed forces' museum near tomorrow's parade ground. In his speech, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing recalled how Myanmar lost its freedom to colonial forces in the 1800s. In a familiar refrain, he referred to "traitors who betrayed the country'' and to internal conflict after independence."One must understand that it was the army that had what was necessary to overcome the danger," he said.

Moving to the present, he said, the army supported the "changes and developments" under the current democratic system, but warned that it "will not accept any deviation from the current stable path. We have to work to make this country well respected and trusted by other countries in the world. We will have to persist in the right direction. If we succeed, I believe that in 10, 15 years' time, there will be much more development than right now."

Mr Renaud Egreteau, a fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Centre and author of two books on Myanmar, said in an e-mail: "I don't see the current Tatmadaw leadership having moved beyond the ideology it first defined more than 60 years ago. The constant emphasis on the multiple threats to the Myanmar nation and its sovereignty that are posed by a vast array of internal and external threats has been, since the 1950s, a consistent mobilising discourse for the armed forces." The message, said Mr Egreteau, is for not only the Burmese civilian elite, but also "the new generations of Tatmadaw officers (who) will lead the armed forces - and continue to intervene in political affairs - in the coming years, if not decades".

Nicholas Farrelly: Myanmar Times - 21 March 2016

The current trends all look promising for Britain-Myanmar relations. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal affinity for Britain is shared by some other senior figures in the NLD. History suggests that such mutual affection is a useful ingredient in foreign affairs.


Ashley South: Nikkei Asian Review - 19 March 2016

The writer reviews the situation with regard to the peace process at the present time of change in the Administration. He notes that:

“On the ground, the peace process has resulted in huge improvements in living standards of conflict-affected communities in areas where cease-fires are holding. Across southeast Myanmar, villages are seeing increased possibilities of movement and better livelihood options. For these villagers, the peace process is a very positive development.....

“In other parts of the country, including much of northern Kachin and Shan states, and parts of Rakhine in the west, civilian populations have experienced little respite. The Tatmadaw has launched new military campaigns against those ethnic armed groups that did not sign the NCA.....

“Is this Myanmar's new reality? A civilian government taking partial control over areas where cease-fires have been agreed to, while the Myanmar armed forces continue to operate by emergency decree and use of systematic violence in areas where cease-fires are not in place. If so, ethnic communities across much of the country will continue to suffer from violence and exclusion, regardless of any change of government in Naypyitaw.

“Another issue yet to be resolved is intercommunal violence, particularly the relationship between the majority Buddhist population and Myanmar's Muslims. The exact number of Muslims in the country is unknown, but when results of the 2015 census are announced later this year, they may show the Muslim population to be greater than expected.

“However, reactions to the census results could be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians to reignite simmering tension between religious communities. One of the greatest challenges facing the new government is how to deal with intercommunal violence -- a problem more intractable than conflicts with ethnic armed groups. While ethnic insurgency can, in principle, be resolved through negotiations between political elites, intercommunal violence is far uglier and intractable.

“As Myanmar enters a new era, there are many reasons to be optimistic - but there are also storm clouds ahead. If, however, there is continued progress through to the next election, in 2020, we will not have to look back at the previous half-decade as ‘golden years’, when there was still so much to hope and struggle for.”


David I Steinberg - Nikkei Asian Review

The NLD has a strong public image as a "taut ship" controlled by its leader. The reincarnation of civil society groups as critics of the organization they supported may present a conundrum for the NLD, and especially its leadership, no matter how essential civil society may be for democratic governance. 

How Suu Kyi deals with such changes will be important both for the future of the reforms and the democratic process in Myanmar.


Derek Tonkin: Network Myanmar – 10 March 2016

The nomination today by the Lower House (Pyithu Hluttaw) of the 69-year-old U Htin Kyaw as one of three presidential candidates almost certainly means that, barring some twist of fate, he will be Myanmar’s next President.

Many have assumed that he will be some kind of puppet, a proxy for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has made it clear that she will call the shots. Comparisons are made with proxy leaderships in Thailand and India where Yingluck Shinawatra and Manmohan Singh stood in for Thaksin Shinawatra and Sonia Gandhi. But in both cases the proxy was as Head of Government, not as Head of State.

So how might the new administration in Myanmar develop? One possibility is to recast the role of the Executive so that Suu Kyi is appointed Prime Minister and the President adopts a mainly non-executive role while still taking "precedence over all other persons throughout the Republic" (Article 58  of the Constitution).

There is no provision in the Constitution for the appointment of a Prime Minister, but there is nothing in the Constitution either which prevents this. As Prime Minister, she could represent Myanmar internationally as Head of Government, where the choice is open to either Heads of State or Heads of Government. There can clearly be no question of her sitting jointly with the President at e.g. ASEAN Summit Meetings.

There is no need for Suu Kyi to take the position of Foreign Minister simply in order to have a seat on the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC). The NDSC acts in any case as a coordinating body primarily on matters of defence and security, as its name implies. The NDSC exists to “discharge the duties assigned by the Constitution or any law” (Article 201). The NDSC is thus in essence an advisory body. It does not make laws, nor issue instructions. Little is known about its methods of operation during the first term of parliament 2011-2016. It has issued no press releases about its decisions or even activities. There is no reason why it cannot continue as an advisory Council and invite Suu Kyi to attend meetings.

For all this to work, though, within the parameters of the existing Constitution will require the consent and indeed active engagement of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. His personal relationship with Suu Kyi is not hostile, it might even be described as amicable. Both have it in their power to make any modus vivendi impossible, so it is in the interests of both to come to a working arrangement which will not make Myanmar the butt of disparaging external criticism.

There will no doubt be commentaries on the lines that Myanmar is heading for political chaos, but there is no reason why this should be the case. I have no doubt that the main protagonists have worked through the permutations already. It is in their gift to make things work. The election results, though a surprise to the military, are still within their zone of comfort. There is no reason for them to intervene. The NLD seem determined to offer them no excuse to do so.

U Thant Thaw Kaung, a project director at the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation and CEO of the Myanmar Book Center, said he supported the nomination of U Htin Kyaw. “We agree that he should be our president,” he said. “He is honest and he has a brilliant ability to lead. He is perfect for the president post.” (The Myanmar Times)

U Thant Myint-U, writer and historian, called his family friend U Htin Kyaw “a stellar choice”. “[He is] well respected, [with] unimpeachable integrity, and a very nice man.” (The Myanmar Times)

Priya Rachivandran: Huffington Post India - 7 March 2016

Suu Kyi's obsession with controlling the image of the party has been unapologetic. She has also shown little qualms over controlling every aspect of decision making within the party. The shadows of authoritarianism in her behaviour aside, her understanding of the political system in Myanmar will be critical for the new government.....

Suu Kyi's overbearing nature within the party has also meant lack of adequate training to create a second level of politicians who can take over if and when required. There has also been a reticence to reveal policies that reflect the NLD's vision for Myanmar and its people.....

Suu Kyi needs the military on her side to tackle the issues, but more importantly, she will need experienced people within her own party who will be able to step up to the demands of the role. The top-down approach she has favoured so far might not come to her aid when it comes to addressing the many issues that Myanmar faces. The deference she expects from her party may end up undermining genuine reform efforts and create an inefficient system, not very different from the military regime she overthrew.....

Derek Tonkin writes: Suu Kyi has not exactly overthrown the military regime. Her electoral victory did not come as a surprise to them. Indeed, it is probably within their zone of comfort, even if the extent was unexpected.

Peter Popham: The Independent - 6 March 2016

The writer reviews the options open to Suu Kyi' new administration and concludes: "Many of the new MPs have spent long years in jail for their political positions, but few have any direct experience of running anything. After half a century of military tyranny, capacity-building is as big a challenge in government as in every other sphere of life. Suu Kyi is likely to take as much of the load of responsibility on her own shoulders as she can, but has already come under attack for trying to do too much. '[Suu Kyi’s] activities in recent months,' said U Soe Myint Aung, a political commentator in Rangoon, 'show that she is someone who likes to micro-manage things, ranging from garbage collection and inspection of the living quarters of her MPs to being the authoritative party spokesperson. So I suspect she would not want to let go of any institutional decision-making.'

"Asked at her pre-election press conference whether the NLD would govern well, Suu Kyi quipped that they 'couldn’t be any worse' than the current government. And, given that the army will retain control of three crucial ministries – home, defence and border affairs – it may be a while before people notice any difference at all. But that is her challenge: to make things better, and fast. Her millions of Burmese admirers are banking on it."

Derek Tonkin writes: It might be tempting to Suu Kyi to cock a snook at the military establishment by nominating a politically unknown individual, but she will need their support if the new NLD-Tatmadaw coalition is to stand any chance of working, or even survival. As an outside bet, 'Thura' Shwe Mann might fit the bill, just.

BBC News Asia - 1 March 2016

The vote to appoint a new president in Myanmar has been brought forward by a week, to 10 March. The move likely means an end to negotiations on whether the constitution could be amended so Aung San Suu Kyi could take the top job.....

The new president, says our correspondent, is still certain to be Ms Suu Kyi's preferred candidate, likely to be one of her trusted aides. NLD official Win Htein told the BBC the party would now focus on trying to change the constitution from within. "Aung San Suu Kyi will still become president anyhow. It's only the matter of sooner or later," he said.

Larry Jagan: The Nation (Bangkok) - 27 February 2016

Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not push to be the new president, but instead will run the government from within the cabinet. The Lady - as she is widely known here will appoint a proxy according to senior sources in the National League for Democracy (NLD). Instead, she will be either the foreign minister or senior minister in the cabinet, after the president is elected by the parliament toward the end of March, said a source in the NLD.

Although there is as yet no official announcement, the NLD leader has decided not to tinker with the constitution, which bars her from being president because she was married to the British academic Michael Aris and her two sons are foreign nationals. “Aung San Suu Kyi told the commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing that she would not try to amend the constitution for at least two years,” according to sources in both camps, close to the negotiation process. The two leaders met last Wednesday for a third time since the NLD overwhelmingly won the elections last November, to resolve the impasse.

“An immediate political crisis may have been averted,” said Ko Ko, editor of the independent newspaper, Democracy Today and CEO of the Yangon Media Group. “But the negotiations still appear to have failed.” Read on….

Derek Tonkin writes: This speculation is not implausible. However, only the post of Foreign Minister would still be vacant for Suu Kyi in the powerful National Defence and Security Council as the posts of the two Speakers are already taken and she would not be either the President or Vice-President. 

Myanmar Times - 26 February 2016

That’s the message emanating from the National League for Democracy camp, with a senior party member telling The Myanmar Times yesterday she is resigned to installing a proxy in the position ahead of the handover of power from U Thein Sein’s administration.

While the party has given no indication of who the proxy may be, the senior official – who is close to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and spoke on condition of anonymity – said U Htin Kyaw and U Myo Aung were firming as the favourites for the president and vice president positions.

Meanwhile, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is considering taking the position of foreign minister, the source said. This would ensure she not only remains closely placed to the president but also can also participate in meetings of the 11-member National Defence and Security Council, which is controlled by the military. Read on....

Derek Tonkin writes: Despite attempts by Suu Kyi to rein in such speculation, rumours continue to proliferate, often supposedly from senior NLD sources. For Suu Kyi to become Foreign Minister would mean the virtual abandonment of her power-base in Parliament which could lead to serious factionalism within the NLD. Under the Constitution, she would need to resign as Party Leader and leave the parliamentary leadership in other hands. The Foreign Minister portfolio would impose a serious challenge to her physical and intellectual stamina.

At a guess, I think it more likely that Suu Kyi might choose to seek nomination as a presidential candidate, challenging her political opponents to contest her eligibility. She could pack the Constitutional Court with her nominees who could rule in her favour, on any grounds which might seem appropriate in the bizarre circumstances of this presidential election. The 'rule of constitutional law' might for once be relegated to second place in favour of the 'rule of democratic morality'.

The Irrawaddy - 21 February 2016

I think in general I’m very optimistic. We all know the challenges: The transition to democracy is at best half-finished, there’s no agreement on constitutional change, we have major economic challenges, issues from land to electricity to other things related to the growth of the economy. We have very weak institutions.

On the other hand, I think what unites almost everyone in this country, 99 percent of the people in this country, is that there is a desperate desire to catch up with the rest of the region. And I can feel from everyone, from very top to ordinary people, that they don’t want to remain the poorest country in the region. They want to see growth, they want to see economic change, and they want to see it in some kind of freer country and, if possible, a more democratic country. And I think that energy is what’s going to animate a lot of what comes next… We know more or less what the prescription is, and we’ve seen so many other successful transitions to democracy as well. Read full interview with Irrawaddy Editor-in-Chief Aung Zaw. 

A videocast  of the interview follows.

 
ISEAS Perspective No. 6 - 2016: 15 February 2016

Executive Summary

  • Now that Myanmar has a free press, many rumours are spread via the international media. The latest spate is over whether or not there is a move afoot to name as president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the victorious National League for Democracy (NLD) in last November’s election, as she and her supporters wish.
  • Under Clause 59(f), she is ineligible for the role because of her two sons’ foreign nationality. Army sources have insisted that this cannot be changed, at least for now, if not for ever.
  • However, persons in and close to the NLD still insist that there is a way to nominate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as president on 17 March so that she can take up the post on 1 April. It is alleged that negotiations between the NLD and the army are underway to that effect. Others deny this to be the case.
  • The rumours may just be rumours, and wrong at that. However, if some of them are true, a constitutional crisis could be looming. Only Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, would know for certain.
  • The NLD has in the past refused to accept army conditions such as those in the current constitution, but in more recent years has accepted grudgingly the army’s terms for power. If the rumours are true, there is a lot at stake for both the NLD and the army. Only time will tell. 

Robert H. Taylor is Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. 


Latest Political News and Views

Associated Press: Japan Times - 2 February 2016
What happens next is being touted as “a political and economic renaissance” or, as one local editorial predicted, “Myanmar’s best year yet.” But others fear the victors, having spent much of their lives as opposition activists and prisoners rather than in government, may, as the Burmese proverb goes, simply be “overwhelmed by 16,000 problems.”
 
“It’s going to be tough for anybody to run that place. The expectations are likely to be too great for her to succeed in the way people want,” says David Steinberg, an American scholar who has tracked Myanmar since the 1950s.....The NLD is not a democratic party. It’s her view on what is going to prevail that’s important,” says Steinberg. “There is nobody of stature within the NLD who has the experience to run things. She has kept down a generation of leadership within the party.”
 
Still, after decades of military rule, the political transition seems to be going relatively well, said Richard Horsey, an adviser to the think tank International Crisis Group, noting in particular Suu Kyi’s crucial meetings with armed forces chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and former junta leader Than Shwe, who is widely believed to still advise the military on critical decisions.
 
"You must remember that the military is autonomous. They will not take orders from the president, only from their commander-in-chief,” says Bertil Lintner, author of several books on Myanmar including a biography of Suu Kyi.
 
"I worry that she may rely too much on the military. She is always trying to compromise with them, and they hold the upper hand,” said Yan Myo Thein, who has close contacts with NLD members. “I am not certain whether the cooperation between the NLD and the military will be beneficial for our country.”
 
“I used to like her a lot but she is now behaving very differently from the past. I don’t know what to expect from her. She used to be humbler. She behaves more like a hierarchical figure now,” said Maung Maung a 46-year-old security guard. “We will wait and see how she will lead the country.”
Andrew Selth: Nikkei Asian Review - 20 January 2016
Extract:
There is no tradition in Myanmar of sharing political power, which has usually been viewed as a zero-sum game. However, the generals must also have faced the prospect of negotiating the future governance of the country with Suu Kyi. For the Tatmadaw and the NLD will have to strike a deal of some kind. The massive show of popular support for Suu Kyi and her party in the Nov. 8 election gave them enormous moral authority and a strong bargaining position, but it did not guarantee them a free hand to shape Myanmar's future. Under current circumstances, that can only be done in a partnership with the armed forces.
Australian National University - University of Yangon: 11 January 2015

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.

Andrew Selth: Nikkei Asian Review - 6 January 2016

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.

KWR International - December 2015
Conversation with Dr. Sean Turnell, Associate Professor, Dept. of Economics, Macquarie University and Economic Advisor, National League for Democracy.

Excerpt

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.

Christian Caryl: The Wall Street Journal -18 December 2015

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.

Interview with Audun Aagre: The Irrawaddy - 15 December 2015

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. 

The Economist - 12 December 2015

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.

Yun Sun - The Diplomat 9 December 2015

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.

Robert Taylor: Nikkei Asian Review - 4 December 2015

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
Zoltan Barany: Foreign Affairs - 1 December 2015

"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."

A persuasive account of winners and losers in the recent elections, and those who drew even. For the present, though, Western investors are watching and waiting. Suu Kyi will want them to be "ethical". They are looking for security and stability and are less concerned about the political flavour of the regime in which they invest.
Bertil Lintner: The Irrawaddy - 1 December 2015

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.


Whither Myanmar? The Dilemma Facing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Commentary: Derek Tonkin - 29 November 2015

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.

Read full article

Adam Burke: New Mandala Inquirer November 2015

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. 

Read full report

Renaud Egreteau: The Diplomat - 20 November 2015

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.....

Derek Tonkin: Nikkei Asian Review - 18 November 2015

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

Robert Taylor: Nikkei Asian Review - 17 November 2015

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.

Mitchell Wigdor and Stephen Toope: The Globe and Mail (Toronto) - 16 November 2015

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.....

Andrew Selth: New Mandala - 16 November 2015

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.....

Financial Times Editorial - 14 November 2015

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."

 
Stuart Leavenworth: McClatchy DC - 13 November 2015

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.....

Michael Green, Daniel Twining: Foreign  Policy 12 November 2015

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."


Latest Comment

Charlie Campbell: TIME - 15 October 2015
The UEC, which is partly funded by the U.S. government, has been under fire for error-strewn voter lists, allegedly disenfranchising over a million migrants, halting polling in ethnic areas that it does not consider secure, and rubber-stamping the state-level stripping of voting rights of the much-maligned Rohingya, who also number around 1 million people. Muddled messages are nothing new.

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.

David Steinberg: Nikkei Asian Review - 15 October 2015
In the present era, the Great Game, in contrast to traditional times, does not mean tensions will break out in military confrontation. The tragic and stupid British attempts to subdue Afghanistan in the 19th century offer clear lessons. But if the hint of a new Great Game is evolving in Myanmar, the Burmese government of whatever stripe will have to ensure that it is able to enforce and continue its traditional and eminently sensible policy of neutrality and balance under new, current, and difficult world conditions in that region. And both China and the U.S. must understand the delicacy of an amorphous frontier and act judiciously.
Igor Blazevic: The Irrawaddy - 5 October 2015
The durability of the Burmese military establishment can be explained in reference to several key bulwarks. In military parlance, these might be referred to as ‘defensive lines,’ employed to ensure the army’s preeminent position.....
 

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.

The Brooking Institute - 16 September 2015

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."

Min Zin: The New York Times - 11 September 2015
Campaigning formally started on Tuesday for Myanmar’s first general election since the end of direct military rule, but don’t be fooled by the display of colorful logos and slogans from various political parties: The army is back in force.
Renaud Egreteau: ISEAS Trends in Southeast Asia No. 17 - September 2015

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.

Thomas Fuller: New York Times - 28 August 2015
It was taboo for many years among democracy activists in Myanmar to speak ill of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who became a global icon of democracy and a symbol of resistance against oppression when Myanmar was ruled by a brutal military junta. Any criticism of The Lady, as she is known here, was seen as strengthening the hand of the generals.
 
But as landmark elections approach - a contest described by some as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for democratic forces - Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is being openly criticized by activists, commentators and intellectuals. They accuse her of a my-way-or-the-highway approach to managing her party. They question her decision to ally herself with a now-marginalized former general. And they say she is missing an opportunity to build a grand coalition of democratic forces, including minority ethnic groups whose support may be crucial after the election.
 
“She has made enemies with the people she needs,” said U Sithu Aung Myint, a widely read columnist with a reputation for nonpartisan commentary. “She lacks strategic thinking, and she is not a clever politician.”
 
Asked what he thought of the term, U Nyan Win, the party’s spokesman, did not hesitate. “I agree,” he said. But he insisted that her top-down handling of party affairs did not diminish her legacy and leadership in pushing for democratic change. Burmese political culture has long featured hierarchical decision-making, he said, and her party is no exception.
 
He painted a picture of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who turned 70 in June, as overworked, struggling to delegate power and not always getting accurate information about the day-to-day decisions within the party.
Bertil Lintner: YaleGlobal Online - August 2015

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.  


Latest Opinion


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. 
Thomas Fuller: New York Times - 19 July 2015
It’s the dawn of democracy in Myanmar. If only the Burmese had their own word for it. As this former dictatorship opens to the world, language is a stumbling block.
 
For half a century, Myanmar was so cut off from the outside world that people were jailed for owning an unauthorized fax machine. As the rest of the world was hurtling into the information age, the strict censorship of publications, limited access to global media and creaking connections to the Internet stunted the evolution of the Burmese language, leaving it without many words that are elsewhere deemed essential parts of the modern political and technical vocabulary.

Today, as Myanmar embraces change, many foreign words are being imported wholesale, but their meanings are getting lost in translation. Read more....

Robert Taylor: ISEAS Perspective - 26 June 2015
The confusion over the meanings of ethnicity which has vexed Myanmar politics since independence has its origins in the many misunderstandings which were perpetrated, unwittingly, by the Panglong Agreement and its subsequent interpretations. Written as a hastily agreed constitutional arrangement to ensure the unity of the entire colony prior to independence, it has been reinterpreted as a set of constitutional principles guaranteeing rights to ethnic groups. It did not and, in law, it could not. Continue reading.....
Derek Tonkin: Network Myanmar - 15 June 2015
The writer highlights a trilogy of statements by the Muslim Council of North Arakan in 1947 and 1948 which established the political imperative for what was later to become the Rohingya community. He takes a quizzical look at the recent Oslo Conference on the Rohingya situation. He comments as well on the purpose and results of Suu Kyi's visit to China last week and examines the prospects for constitutional reform even before the elections. He concludes that Suu Kyi as a Non-Executive President would be an ideal solution, but doubts that she would be the right person either for an exective presidency or Speaker of the Lower House under the present Constitution.

Interview with Professor Robert Taylor - Mizzima Weekly 
Professor Taylor notes that "the question of ethnicity in Myanmar politics has obviously been revitalised with the return to open politics and a free press since 2010. Much of the discussion is highly emotional, not grounded in history, and conceptually misleading.....
000
"Ethnicity since independence has mixed into a political cocktail from which demagogues drink and politicians, rather than providing the public guidance and leadership, do little to drain off except by appeasement.....The issue of ethnicity in Myanmar politics is not now being resolved, but rather encouraged, thus detracting public attention from other concrete issues such as the economy  or administrative and legal reform."  Read on.....

Stanley Weiss: Huffington Post - 13 April 2015
The writer examines the situation in which Suu Kyi finds herself as the elections approach. He writes:

"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'."

He concludes:

"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.  

Transnational Institute - April 2015

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.


Latest Comment


Simon Tay, Cheryl Tan: The Nation (Bangkok) - 4 March 2015
The two authors, respectively chairman and assistant director of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), analyse the current political and economic climate in Myanmar, and conclude:

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.


Financial Times Editorial - 15 February 2015
In a tour d'horizon of political prospects in 2015. the Financial Times concludes:

"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."

Trevor Wilson ANU: East Asia Forum - 1 February 2015
Myanmar's initial reforms beginning in March 2011 were dramatic and surprised everyone, but they are still incomplete and not always operating well. Many problem areas have not yet undergone reform (such as land reforms, judicial system reform, and ending human rights abuses), meaning that much 'unfinished business' remains. But this does not mean that Myanmar's reform process has stalled. Continue reading.....

Latest Views and Op-Eds


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."