The best insider's analysis of the status of Myanmar transition and reforms

By Than Htut Aung
Eleven Media Group
Publication Date : 24-09-2013

The majority of the people of Myanmar, including myself, last year looked upon the government and president with constructive optimism. The authorities provided a ray of hope on much-needed economic and social reforms as well as politics. Lingering conflicts appeared to be subsiding, even though another emerged in the Rakhine State. But now there is much concern. Mistrust, suspicion and cynism have surfaced. 

The future looks grim. Changes are becoming a distant dream, promises are just an illusion. There is a feeling of self-deception. Many people have shied away from thinking of reform. Back in 1990, the creation of a civilian government was not possible as U Ne Win kept his grip on power. But can't the country change now he has gone? Is dictatorship an infectious disease? 

If its source can't be found, there is no medicine or effective cure!

There might have been opportunities that attracted both political and economic potential over the past two years but the majority of Myanmar's people are still trapped in poverty. Due to the loss of harvests and rising consumer prices, farmers are finding life particularly hard. The unemployed in the countryside move to the cities to find work. But they can't find places to live in the cities. Some look to go abroad, but the work situations in Malaysia or Thailand - considered paradises by rural people - are tough. Food prices are spiralling out of reach and there is no place to escape to. Rental prices in Yangon and Mandalay have doubled or tripled in the past two years. The land issue - including land allocation by the Investment Commission and privileges won by crony companies - has tipped to crisis point. It is not just foreign investors who are put off, but ordinary people too. 

The middle class has suffered a setback. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer. Nice speeches from the president no longer ring positive to the ears of poor as they witness more hardship. They only see unequal economic activities leading to increased unfairness. Besides the lack of proper economic management, no efforts are made to end bribery and corruption among government officials.

Internationally the country is spotlighted by ongoing riots that emerge one after another. Buddhists, who usually live with peace of mind, are stirred by sectarian violence. Nationalism is part of a wave of anti-Muslim violence instigated by right-wing groups. It has never been the practice of Myanmar's people to burn the homes of people of other religions. 

These issues are more than just self-cynicism. They are a U-turn in the national reconciliation effort. Many people think reconciliation has to do with Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy. This is only partially right. In reality, national reconciliation has been on hold since the 1962 military coup. Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD appeared in the 1988 uprising. The NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election. It won the people's approval again in the 2012 by-elections. So when will national reconciliation come about? The answer is that it will be secured only on the day when the army assumes its primary duty of defence; on the day when the army distances itself from political and administrative affairs; on the day the army truly hands over power to the people.

After the coup in 1962, the military did not draw up a new Constitution until 1974, for the so-called purpose of transferring power to the people after a system of one-party rule. General Ne Win, the leader of the military, took off his uniform and became president. The administration came to be dominated by military personnel. It came to an end with the 1988 uprising. Then, General Saw Maung and the military leaders, who staged a coup with the consent of U Ne Win, promised to hold a free and fair election and to give power to the winning party. Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD won, but the military backtracked and openly lied that the election was intended only for drawing up the constitution. In fact, only a few elected representatives were involved in drawing up the constitution, which was outlined by then Senior General Than Shwe and approved in 2008. 

Actually, both the 2008 constitution and 2010 election were just preparatory steps for the military to transform the shape of the dictatorship. They were not meant to transfer power to the people. The authorities were just trying to shift their power to parliament, the government and the military. The opposition and the ethnic groups were given a chance to participate in a limited capacity legislatively and administratively. The NLD competed in the 2012 by-elections without claiming the success of the 1990 election. But the public wants to see the NLD's participation in parliament for amendments to laws including the 2008 constitution. Moreover, the public expects Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to be the opposition party that can work with as well as criticise the government's policies. For national reconciliation, the army remains an integral part of the solution, and the NLD will have to deal directly with military leaders.

If the authorities are sincere about a transition to democracy, and really care about the country, the three main elements - the government led by the president, parliament led by Union Assembly Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, and the army led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing - must pave way to forming the basic institutions necessary to creating a truly democracy system. The 2008 Constitution must be discussed for further amendment in the implementation of a democratic system. The authorities must agree to hold a free and fair election in 2015. 

The people have become pessimistic with the ongoing difficulties, obstacles and lack of will. There are negativities in all political, economic and social spheres. The future seems like infinite struggle. To win trust from the people, all the negative aspects must be tackled and national reconciliation put back on track.

This article was originally published here

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