View Full Version : Politics Myanmar Elections Harnessing hope in Burma's by-elections
2nd April 2012, 12:01 PM
Harnessing hope in Burma's by-elections
Bridget Welsh (http://www.tindakmalaysia.com/author?l=en&c=news&n=Bridget%20Welsh)
10:42AM Apr 1, 2012
At a political rally in the Mingartaungnyut township right outside of Rangoon, thousands thronged the streets to support the National League for Democracy (NLD), the country's main opposition party that will contest in today's by-elections for the first time since 1990.
http://media1-cdn.malaysiakini.com/455/4441545ba893c08aec12866260a36972.jpgCaravan after caravan of trucks filled with supporters decked in red and white and waving NLD flags filled the roads, as supporters danced spontaneously with joy and abandon.
Families flocked to the sidelines and watched in support, bringing their children to witness this historic moment. The lady beside me, a woman in her 50s, started to cry in what she called tears of happiness.
The festive mood was palpable as at long last the burden of history is being lifted, and the promise of a better future is becoming tangible.
While these elections on one level will not change the balance of power - only 9% of the total seats are being contested - they will mark an opportunity where the Burmese people will have their popular choice, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, take a seat in Parliament.
After decades of being muzzled, where demonstrators were brutally mowed down by troops in 1988 and 2007, the country is on the cusp of giving its people a real voice.
Of the 45 seats, the NLD is expected to win at least half, potentially more, if the wave of support and optimism continues. Although uneven in places, the NLD has run a well-organised campaign, with many young people as volunteers and modern merchandising.
The campaign has clearly centred on Suu Kyi, whose name alone provokes an outpouring of love and devotion.
Problems with electoral rolls
There are legitimate concerns with the electoral process. The campaign has featured intimidation, unfair use of resources and problematic electoral rolls - features that Malaysians understand well.
http://media1-cdn.malaysiakini.com/455/9cd353e52697f37e794da319bc8409f6.jpgThese problems are unlikely however to stop the wave of deep-seated opposition to the government, as voters in Burma know that these elections are a crucial signal of the need to further reform the political landscape.
While problems have and will mar the process, the campaign itself has been revolutionary and genuinely liberating.
The incumbent government has shown signs that it is willing to fairly face the electorate. They have even let in international observers.
The number of foreign polls watchers on the ground is small and limited, but the regime's willingness to allow these observers into the country shows growing confidence rather than weakness.
President Thein Sein has openly and repeatedly said he was committed to free polls, and actively intervened to stop any shenanigan. The trust he has earned has contributed to the growing sense of progress and promise these elections can bring.
Parallels with Malaysia striking
There are striking features in this election that echo patterns of democratisation elsewhere.
Leader of the opposition, Suu Kyi, has served as a unifying figure, bringing together different groups with one common aim - to bring about genuine political reform.
Most of the candidates in her party won their credentials as political prisoners. They include a young hip-hop singer, Zayaw Thar, established lawyers, doctors and merchants.
The NLD is fielding a record number of women, forcing the incumbent regime to do the same.
http://media1-cdn.malaysiakini.com/300/5c468af411aab281d0c2fb12c7e8ca42.jpgBurma currently has the lowest number of women in parliament in the region, 4%, and this will likely change after these polls, with the entry of a number of women, including Suu Kyi herself.
Many of the NLD candidates are parachuted to these areas, but they are united in the call for change. They will face off against local leaders, handpicked by the regime and rich in resources.
The incumbent party, United Solidarity Democratic Party (USDP), relies significantly on patronage and its local standing.
They have tied their victory to the development programmes over the last decade, taking credit for the construction of schools, clinics and roads. Most of their candidates are civilians, with only a handful of former military personnel. There are also a few relatives of current ministers, as the regime is attempting to consolidate its elite families.
Money will have salience in the more rural areas with limited media exposure and in a number of seats, the USDP will have the advantage due to a large number of military personnel.
While the cash handouts are not quite as in your face as is happening in Malaysia, the parallels are striking.
Long history of fear
Of the 45 open seats, over three-quarters are competitive. The battleground areas are in Burma's heartland - the Irrawaddy Delta and Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway divisions.
The NLD has the advantage in the former capital Rangoon, while the USDP has a strong position in the seats around the new capital Naypyidaw and in a handful of seats where there is a large military presence, such as Myaing.
http://media1-cdn.malaysiakini.com/455/86ec6d3d1335c1cdf3e73948fa1052ab.jpgIncluding the three suspended seats in the Kachin state (where they were affected by separatist insurgency), only six of the seats are in the minority areas. This is due to the fact that these by-elections are being held to replace those elected who had to resign in order to join the government last March, and a few minorities were brought into the cabinet.
While these elections are essentially a two-party contest, there are 17 parties contesting and a number of independent candidates, making for considerable choices, turning these elections the most competitive since 1990 and opening the way for greater liberalisation.
What distinguishes Burma is its long history of fear. These by-elections are very much about shedding the apprehension for change. Unlike Malaysia, there has been much more pressure to conform, and the high costs in not doing so in Burma.
For ordinary Burmese, this election is about embracing and harnessing hope. Let us genuinely hope that the April Fool's Day by-elections do not make fools of ordinary Burmese for believing in what until recently was impossible, and ultimately, in themselves.
DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is in Burma to observe the by-elections.
2nd April 2012, 12:03 PM
Nurul buoyed by Suu Kyi's triumph in Burma (http://malaysiakini.com/news/193808)
Terence Netto (http://www.tindakmalaysia.com/author?l=en&c=news&n=Terence%20Netto)
9:49AM Apr 2, 2012
Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar took delight in the triumph of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in elections yesterday while recalling a favour done her by that country's human rights campaigners 12 years ago.
While stumping before a keen crowd of her constituents in the upscale Bangsar district last night, Nurul referenced Suu Kyi's struggles to bring political reform to Burma.
http://media1-cdn.malaysiakini.com/300/5c468af411aab281d0c2fb12c7e8ca42.jpgShe did so in response to questions from the audience, who after listening to their parliamentarian on current affairs had asked the young mother of two how long it would take for Malaysia to make the transition to a full-fledged democracy.
The 32-year-old Nurul's reply: "We have to strive for as long as it takes."
Nurul referred to Suu Kyi's decades-long struggle to bring political reform to her country, a travail-strewn path that saw this daughter of Burmese independence fighter, Aung San, spend long periods under house arrest.
"We have to keep striving ... it would help to have a sense of humour," quipped Nurul, in the course of describing the Sisyphean nature of the labour required in bringing political reform to Malaysia.
This was where the results coming in late yesterday in Burma's by-elections, especially reports of Suu Kyi's success in winning a seat in parliament, provided Nurul with grist for her optimism about the future.
Yesterday's elections in Burma signalled the isolated regime's desire to begin the transition from military despotism to democracy.
Gratitude to NGO Altsean Burma
Nurul paid tribute to the generosity and fortitude of the democracy movement in Burma, one NGO of which, Altsean Burma, had advised her closely on how to present her case in hearings before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva in 2000.
That year Malaysian NGO Aliran was slotted to make their deposition in the annual sitting of the commission that hears human rights cases from all over the world.
http://media1-cdn.malaysiakini.com/444/9f61fe79390d478b3ca6c7f16336dacb.jpgAliran allowed Nurul, who at that time was travelling the world to highlight her jailed father's plight as a political prisoner, to take their place instead, in making a seven-minute deposition before UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson.
"The only Malaysian NGO recognised by the UN Human Rights Commission at that time was Aliran. Such recognition was a pre-condition for the submission of a deposition," said Nurul.
However, Altsean Burma whose representative Debbie Stothard, a Malaysian based in Bangkok, sympathised with the then-teenaged Nurul's peripatetic exertions on behalf of her incarcerated father, Anwar Ibrahim.
Stothard steered Nurul through the rigours of preparation of her deposition before a panel headed by Robinson.
Later, recalling details of her deposition before the UN body 12 years ago, Nurul told Malaysiakini that democracy's decades-old efflorescence in Asean was unstoppable.
3rd April 2012, 04:04 PM
Analysts see local ripples from Suu Kyi win (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2012/04/02/analysts-see-local-ripples-from-suu-kyi-win/)
Teoh El Sen (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/author/elsen/) and Tarani Palani (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/author/tarani/)
| April 2, 2012
However, they do not think these will develop into a storm.
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/suu-ki-300x202.jpg (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2012/04/02/analysts-see-local-ripples-from-suu-kyi-win/attachment/suu-ki/)PETALING JAYA: The historic win by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy in Sunday’s by-elections will send ripples in Malaysia, but not enough to develop into a storm that will topple the incumbent Barisan Nasional government.
This was what several political analysts told FMT today. They agreed that the global trend of changing old guards – evident in the Arab world and now in Myanmar – would influence Malaysian politics, including the way voters would cast their ballots.
Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Jayum Jawan, who teaches politics and government, said:
“No country is immune to the winds of change. It is already happening. People are already having this euphoria. If any ruling party wants to remain relevant or return to power, it has to change and govern to reflect what the people want.
“These old guards are people who are out of tune with the current scenario. The people cannot accept them any longer and those leaders are swept away with the currents of change that is taking place around us.”
He noted that both BN and Pakatan Rakyat were talking about change, but he said no one was “making a big move”.
“We see minor changes and I don’t know if that is acceptable to the electorate. BN, PKR, PAS, are all changing. For example, PAS is no longer the Islamic and Malay party of the 90s. But it is now reaching out to non-Malays and non-Muslims.
Whether this is enough will be tested in the next general election.”
Jayum described such changes as “minor adjustments”, not the “big bang” that the people wanted.
“When the BN talks about winnable candidates, it is talking about expired politicians being rejuvenated again. Is that change? We have to give way to young people who are hungry to participate in nation building.
“Extensive change needs to come from young people with good ideas, not old people who are conservative. They have to address the needs and wants of young Malaysians who no longer talk along ethnic lines.”
Jayum added that the concept of 1Malaysia was good, but the implementation was lacking.
Ooi Kee Beng, the deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies (ISEAS) concurred that Suu Kyi’s victory gave some optimism to the Malaysian opposition.
However, he cautioned against seeing too much relevance for Malaysia in international political developments, saying local conditions were different from those in Myanmar and the Middle East.
“Malaysia’s inner dynamics and conditions are very different,” he said.
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/018654-suu-kyi-300x168.jpg (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2012/04/02/analysts-see-local-ripples-from-suu-kyi-win/attachment/018654-suu-kyi/)“There is definitely a sense of optimism in the air. But Malaysians are very sensitive of race and religion and however dangerous things get, they will not do things that will lead to violence.”
He said the issue in Malaysia was not about achieving a revolution but rather changing the government.
“In the case of the Arab Spring, there was an uprising and people didn’t know what to put in place of the old regime. In the case of Myanmar, our conditions are different from theirs.”
Contrary to the developments in those countries, he added, the opposition in Malaysia had managed to consolidate its position to some extent.
“In Malaysia, the opposition has managed to articulate their views and capture what is wrong and want to change it. They can argue with the incumbent.”
Status quo expected
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Sivamurugan Pandian said the Myanmar and Arab experience would have an effect on how Malaysians vote, but mostly in the urban areas.
He said he did not expect BN to lose in the coming election. “It will remain very much a status quo. Maybe the changes can happen in the 14th or 15th election if BN does not change more drastically by then.”
He said the BN leadership at the top level had changed and that this was most apparent in Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. However, he lamented that since 2008, the two rival coalitions had focused so much on each other’s weaknesses that they had neglected explaining their policies.
“They are focusing on character assassination,” he said, “and voters now see these things as pointless.”
Mohammad Agus Yusoff of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said that no country in the world could rule forever without people standing up against injustices.
“The regime that is not democratic and is autocratic has to change its political style,” he said. “You cannot go on ruling the country with your own political style of intimidating the people. People are more open now. They know their rights. They want to participate in politics.
“Everything on the market has to be up to date. In Myanmar, people waited for so long for Suu Kyi to lead them.”
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Najib-Barisan-Nasional-300x202.jpg (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2011/07/12/panicky-bn-govt-on-verge-of-collapse/attachment/najib-barisan-nasional/)He described BN as neither autocratic nor fully democratic. “Sometimes it is very open, sometimes it is not. Sometimes it looks like it wants to change. And we wait for it. But the reforms don’t come.
“There are things like ETP and GTP, but let’s wait and see if these are good.”
“Changes have to be firmer, clearer, so that the people do not only hear about them, but see and feel them too.
“So far, BN has been inconsistent. Flip-flopping is so common. For example, the Peaceful Assembly Bill was to enable more freedom, but in actual fact it has effectively stopped people from going for street protests.
“You talk about 1Malaysia, it sounds good. But Umno members are still talking about Malay rights and so on. That’s the problem, you are not walking the talk.
“Some things have to be changed and realigned. If what we are seeing go on continuously, it is not good for the BN, for the government, or for the people.”
6th April 2012, 10:57 PM
The lady and the generals meet half-way (http://atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/ND06Ae03.html)
By Brian McCartan
Myanmar's highly anticipated by-elections, held on April 1 for some 45 parliamentary seats, has borne its first diplomatic fruit. The United States announced a relaxation of certain economic sanctions and movement on the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Naypyidaw in reward for the country's recent democratic progress.
However, the opposition National League for Democracy's landslide victory of 43 out of the 45 seats may be somewhat overstated and questions remain about the sincerity of President Thein Sein's government's commitment to sustainable reform.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US is moving forward with reciprocal steps forward in light of Myanmar's reform efforts and the by-elections. These steps include the seeking an agreement for a fully accredited ambassador to Myanmar, the first since 1990, and a formal announcement of a nominee soon.
A US Agency for International Development (USAID) mission will be established and restrictions removed for private organizations to conduct activities in-country, including in areas related to democracy promotion, health and education.
A travel ban on government officials, businessmen and their families listed on a previous sanctions list will be relaxed to allow visits by select officials and parliamentarians. The process to begin a targeted easing of bans on the export of US financial services and investment will be started "to help accelerate economic modernization and political reform", Clinton said.
Clinton made it clear in her statement that "sanctions and prohibitions will stay in place on individuals and institutions that remain on the wrong side of these historic reform efforts". She went on to say that the US will continue to monitor the situation and press for continued reform, especially in human rights, the release of remaining political prisoners, progress in national reconciliation with ethnic minority groups and the "verifiable termination" of Myanmar's military ties to North Korea. She stated that improvements in these areas will be met by positive action by the US.
The relaxation of sanctions, while not the complete removal many had hoped for, will still surely be good news for potential investors. Western companies have been eager to move into the country since the 2010 elections changed Myanmar from a military dictatorship to a more palatable civilian-military hybrid democracy. American companies, in particular, fear that Asian investors will consolidate the more lucrative investment opportunities before they can make inroads.
Many of the US sanctions are grounded in law and will require congressional action to lift them, a lengthy process even with bipartisan support. Still, the executive has the authority to grant waivers on sanctions in certain sectors including financial, agriculture, tourism and telecommunications industries. The Department of Treasury, too, is able to grant licenses on a case-by-case basis.
Clinton's announcement came only hours after a statement by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) calling for the immediate lifting of Western sanctions. The joint statement came at the conclusion of a two-day ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh and amid praise for Naypyidaw's handling of the by-elections. The statement was the strongest yet from the grouping, which has long derided sanctions as being counterproductive.
The European Union, too, seems on the verge of relaxing its sanctions. Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the EU's Foreign Policy Chief, said on Monday the grouping is expected to send a "positive signal" when it reviews sanctions at the end of this month.
She cautioned, however, that the actual lifting of sanctions may depend on how the government performs after the elections. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Wednesday that EU foreign ministers had indicated that many of the sanctions could be lifted if remaining political prisoners were freed and the by-elections were deemed fair.
Late on Tuesday, the Union Election Commission confirmed that the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won 43 of the 44 seats it contested, including Aung San Suu Kyi's constituency in Kawhmu township south of Yangon. The one seat it lost went to a candidate from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, which was widely expected before the elections.
The result was a clear defeat for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and demonstrated that Suu Kyi remains immensely popular. It also sent the signal that the NLD will be a force to reckon with in the 2015 general elections.
Although touted as a major test of the new government's democratic resolve, the by-elections amounted to a win-win situation that the government could not pass up. President Thein Sein on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh called the elections "successful". His government's reformist credentials have been further burnished through the legitimization provided by Suu Kyi and the NLD's participation in the polls.
Thein Sein and his reform-minded allies can afford to allow Suu Kyi and the NLD the victory. The 43 seats won by the NLD amount to less than 7% of the 644 seats in parliament. Of those, a quarter is reserved for the military and around 80% of the remainder were won by the USDP in an election that was widely derided due to rampant vote tampering, intimidation and other irregularities. Many of the USDP's members are former military officers and officials of the previous ruling military junta.
The real prize is the elections due in 2015, when the NLD will be able to challenge the USDP for control of parliament. The by-elections gave the government an opportunity to gauge grass roots support for Suu Kyi and her party. Now that the elections are out of the way, the government has some breathing space to plan how to whittle away that support over the next three years.
With Suu Kyi in parliament, the political dynamic will change from one of "The Lady versus the Generals" to mainstream democratic politics where the NLD will have to compete with other voices in parliament to be heard. To be sure, Suu Kyi's popularity and charisma will make her voice a powerful one in the legislature, but she will be in the minority against the interests of other opposition parties, the ruling USDP, and the military.
The military and the government are surely aware of their own unpopularity. They know that to win the 2015 elections they will
either have to resort to vote-rigging and intimidation, which would draw the ire of the international community, or find a way to undermine support for the NLD. The alternative is to resort to military power, through a coup or other intervention in the name of national security, to secure their hold on executive and legislative power.
A softer approach would be to co-opt Suu Kyi and the NLD without giving them significant powers. There has been speculation that Suu Kyi may be offered a cabinet position, though she has said that she will decline any such offer. Even if rejected, the offer will still make the former generals appear reformist.
The USDP can also continue to claim credit for the ongoing reform effort that began before the by-elections and score political points with the economic development which is sure to follow from the rollback of sanctions.
Successful peace deals with ethnic insurgents negotiated with government representatives would also go some way to gaining the support of ethnic minority voters in 2015. At the least, the deals would see former insurgent groups transform into mainstream ethnic-based political parties, which could dilute the vote for the NLD in ethnic areas.
The NLD's presence in parliament will allow it to call attention to pressing national issues as part of the mainstream political process. Suu Kyi said that her party's priorities after the election would be to push for peace in ethnic minority areas, institute "rule of law", and support amendments to the constitution. She has also highlighted the need for poverty alleviation through job creation and improving education and public health services.
Thein Sein's government has already gone some way on the first point by starting a peace process with most of the armed ethnic movements. However, an ongoing bitter counterinsurgency campaign against the Kachin Independence Organization that flared up again in June 2011 after 17 years of ceasefire has drawn criticism from the international community.
Amendment of the constitution will be almost impossible with the few seats held by the NLD. Even with the support of other opposition parties, she will be unable to garner the necessary 75% of parliament needed to initiate charter changes. She can, however, keep the item in the public's consciousness in readiness for the 2015 elections.
She may find more traction in seeking improvements in rule by law. Thein Sein has made several statements about seeking an end to endemic corruption. Drafts of new laws such as those governing labor and foreign investment have already been put up for debate in parliament.
These issues, however, may not be on the top of the list of many Myanmar citizens who face a daily struggle to put enough food on the table. After decades of economic mismanagement, many people in this largely agrarian country simply want reforms that will guarantee that they can bring their crops to market for a fair price, provide better access to jobs and give reliable sources of electricity and water.
For the NLD to maintain its current widespread grassroots support, they will have to deal with these issues as well as seek political reform. Suu Kyi's recent statements about the NLD working both within government and outside may go some way to keeping the momentum behind her mass base. Programs such as the NLD's HIV/AIDS relief center and social-aid outreach will provide the party with a means to engage the populace outside of politics.
Thein Sein and his USDP backers will also need to address these issues if they hope to defeat the NLD in 2015. Yet already questions are being raised about the government's most visible reformist move, the suspension of work on the Myitsone dam in Kachin State. There are growing indications that the Chinese company responsible for constructing the dam, China Power International, has quietly resumed work on the project following talks between the Myanmar and Chinese governments in early March.
The next three years have the potential to shape up into an unprecedented competition for the hearts of Myanmar's population, one that for once does not involve guns. That is as long as the military does not decide it has had enough of the democracy experiment and reasserts its control.
Brian McCartan is a freelance journalist. He may be reached at email@example.com.
12th April 2012, 08:34 PM
Myanmar: Elections and building trust
By David I Steinberg
The successful completion of the by-elections of April 1 provides grounds for renewed hope for future developments in Myanmar. In spite of dire predictions of manipulation, the results indicate that the government of President Thein Sein has essentially fulfilled its promise of a fair set of by-elections - ones that were swept by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which won 43 of 45 seats.
The government-supported political organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which had previously held those seats, lost.
Now, however, if Myanmar is to evolve into a state that begins to approach its political, social and economic potential, the delicate process begins - the building of multiple levels and layers of trust between and among the various forces in the complex maze of societies that comprise Myanmar.
Distrust pervades the polity. Decades of suspicion, even wars and rebellions, have clouded the growth of reciprocal confidence between the majority Burmans and each of the diverse minority peoples. Civil-military relations have also been marked by profound antipathies for over a generation. The political parties, both those essentially Burman in composition and those of minority origin, have illustrated inability to group together for any appreciable period for common purposes even when they have had a common goal, such as replacing the military with civilian rule. All these tasks are likely to be both arduous and lengthy.
For perhaps two generations, senior military have regarded civilian politicians and bureaucrats as untrustworthy, incompetent, faction-ridden and corrupt. Civilians who have experienced the traumas of military rule have considered the military as arrogant, domineering, self-serving, and insensitive to both Burman and minority peoples.
In spite of the undemocratic stipulation in the new constitution of including an
unelected 25% younger active-duty military officers serving in all legislatures, it has one potential advantage. As a senior retired military official in Naypyidaw mentioned, this may be the military's "end game".
The younger officers are not wedded to the opinions and stereotypes of civilians as are their seniors. Over time, working in legislatures together, the commonality of discussing national goals could begin to provide this sense of trust that has been so lacking in Myanmar society. If this were to develop, the stringency of military authority under the new constitution could be mitigated.
Although the ruling junta between 1988 and 2010 was able to forge 17 ceasefires with minority forces, these were not peace treaties, but simply attempting to enforce a non-lethal status quo. It sometimes worked.
But President Thein Sein's administration has been able to sign in January 2012 a ceasefire with the Karen - the longest rebellion in the modern world dating from 1949. He now is intent, with foreign support, to provide to that area the first fruits of peace - the development of services and a better life so long denied.
He is determined to do so quickly with foreign support. If he succeeds, then the prospects for further reformation of majority-minority relations in the fractious north among the Kachin, with whom fighting continues, would be more likely, as the minorities in that region may realize what real peace may bring. Modification of the state's prohibition of teaching minority languages in the national curriculum would also go far in enabling those groups to feel theiridentities have been respected. Effective restrictions on glass ceilings for minorities and non-Buddhists, especially in the military, need elimination.
The various minorities have in the past few decades tried to come together to oppose what they have regarded as a tyrannical Burman military regime. Even with such a common purpose, they groupings have proven ephemeral.
The development of minority regions and the real attempt by the Union (central) government to improve the lot of the minorities, together with the first program by the central administration to have provincial legislatures that could articulate local and minority needs, in contrast to a centralized legislature with minority representation, may provide the basis for the beginnings for such trust.
Those who want instant democracy and amity will no doubt be disappointed. But the opportunities are there for progress over time. Trust is the element to cement the state - not simply by military force that has proven to be both costly in lives and treasure, and has both been ineffective and increased distrust.
The military's goal of national unity is important and necessary, not only for the well-being of the Burmese peoples but for the stability of the region. Its achievement will come from more enlightened leadership, and the evidence is beginning to accumulate that the new government is approaching the perpetual problems of the state with more acumen and sensitivity than others have for over half a century. We only hope it will continue.
David I Steinberg is Distinguished Professor of Asian Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. His latest volume with Fan Hongwei is Modern Burma-Myanmar Relations: Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence (2012).
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