Burmese kyat. Photo: onourownpath/flickr
On the eve of a critically important IMF Article IV Consultation Mission to Myanmar, the basic question is: where’s the beef on economic reform? After over a year of post-election policy debate, meaningful economic reform initiatives have been meager. Allowing more room for union rights is an important step, and holding national conferences to talk about strategies for poverty alleviation and agriculture sector improvement are extremely welcome.
But the economic underpinnings needed for a successful democratic transition have not yet been addressed. These include: (a) policy reforms and actions to tackle emerging macroeconomic problems such as exchange rate appreciation and inflation; (b) concrete measures to stimulate the private sector; and (c) reforms in the exchange rate, financial system, investment policies, and state-owned enterprises that address entrenched military interests and control over economic resources that are impeding national economic development. » More
Still not much to celebrate. Photo: Valerie Sticher
Last week, the EU eased its long-held travel and financial restrictions on four Burmese ministers and lifted the ban on high-level visits to the country. The decision follows the swearing-in of a new government in March and is the first partial reversal of punitive measures against the suppressive regime. So, are things finally heading in the right direction?
It’s easy to suggest otherwise. The elections in November last year were neither free, nor fair. The new, nominally civilian regime is still dominated by the military elite. Praise for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest is hardly due, given the regime’s bizarre reasoning for extending her detention in the first place. And ethnic conflicts are still a sad (and under-reported) reality in the resource-rich country. But some subtle changes give hope for restrained optimism. Perhaps most importantly, powers are now distributed more widely. In the past, literally everything – from defense and security issues to social and economic matters – had been controlled by a single, authoritarian leader. Now there are four (partially overlapping) key centers of power: the presidency, the military, the parliament and the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
These changes are not the result of sanctions, but most likely part of Than Shwe’s exit strategy. In an attempt to avoid the miserable fate he imposed on his predecessor, Than Shwe has put in place constitutional arrangements that make it difficult for a single person to emerge as a new strongman. » More
Back to Praying; Photo: Steve Punter/flickr
On 31 January 2011, Burma’s parliament will convene in the country’s newly erected capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for the very first time. The opening session will take place 85 days after the nation’s first elections in 20 years, in which the junta’s proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), claims to have won almost 80 percent of the seats. The new National Assembly will come to consist of an Upper House with 168 elected seats and 56 reserved for the military, and a Lower House with 330 elected and 110 military seats. With solid majorities of 129 seats in the Upper House and 259 in the Lower House that the USDP achieved through the rigged November elections, plus the 25 percent of seats reserved for the military, the new system will ensure – in a new and legal way – the continuation of the old military-ruled order.
The Burmese junta is obviously forcefully pressing ahead with its plans to create a “discipline-flourishing democracy”. Parliament’s first task will be to set up an electoral college with representatives from the three chambers in order to nominate a new president. According to the 2008 constitution, the president does not need to be an elected member of parliament but must be familiar with military affairs. According to political observers, Than Shwe, junta chief since 1992 and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, is therefore a likely candidate, as are Generals Maung Aye and Shwe Mann, the second and third-highest ranking officers in the ruling military.
On the surface, it thus seems as if little has changed in these three months since the elections and daily life has remained virtually unchanged for the bulk of the Burmese people. There has been no release of prisoners, no relaxation of censorship, and no improvement in the standard of living. Meanwhile, Burma’s partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have hailed the election as progress and called on Western nations to drop their economic and financial sanctions. » More