"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Monday, June 13, 2011

Burma inches toward democracy

The Burma Parliament opens for the first time in 22 years.

A possible transition of power from a purely military government in Burma to a hybrid civilian-led administration

"We might hope that the House of Representatives (Lower House) could with the passage of time become the more vigorous debating chamber," says Derek Tonkin, Chairman of the UK-based group, Network Myanmar. "But we could be looking some years ahead," he concedes.

The process has been clouded by controversy, often shrouded in mystery and has divided opinion inside and outside Burma.

The constitution on which the new political administration rests, the laws by which last November's historic elections were conducted and the rules which govern the new national and state parliaments are all designed to ensure that the central role of the military continues and that the influence of genuinely democratic voices is limited.

One outcome of the election is that political
 talk is buzzing again
An alternative view is that, however much the old military government orchestrated things to ensure a landslide victory for its Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the elections, however unrepresentative of the will of the people the new parliament is, there has been change in Burma, and that offers potential opportunities.

A recent report from the International Crisis Group concluded that "with General Than Shwe handing over power to a new generation of leaders, there is a window to influence the future direction of the country. Western powers need to engage robustly the new Myanmar (Burma) government on a wide range of issues and demonstrate that they are ready to adjust their policies".

The New Government

The incoming government includes three serving military officers, 23 ministers with a military background and four purely civilian technocrats.

The new President, Thein Sein, is a retired general, former prime minister and seen as loyal to Gen Than Shwe. Iin fact it is widely assumed that, despite the formality of a parliamentary vote, Gen Than Shwe hand-picked him for the job.

One of two vice-presidents, Tin Aung Myint Oo is also a former military man. The second vice-president, Sai Maw Khan, is a civilian doctor from the Shan ethnic group.

The new national parliament is dominated by the USDP, which officially won around 80% of the contested seats in the widely criticized election. Twenty-five per cent of seats were reserved, under the 2008 constitution, for the military.

The business of parliament has been conducted behind closed doors. The public, diplomats and journalists are prevented from observing its workings.

The main achievements appear to have been to approve the list of new ministers and the 2011-2012 budget, which allocates 25% of resources to military affairs and just over 1% to health care.

BURMESE MINISTERS:  Many gave up military posts to run for Parliament. 
Wearing military uniforms is out.  MPs and cabinet members
now wear civilian dress. 

A Record $20 Billion in Foreign Investment

Burma received a record $20 Billion in foreign investment in the past year, the country has said, dwarfing previous pledges for the isolated nation.  The amount compares with just $302 million in 2010 and a total of $16 Billion for the prior two decades combined.

Neighboring China was the biggest foreign investor, most of which will be invested in power projects.

China invested $8.27 Billion in the year to March 2011, followed by Hong Kong with $5.39 Billion and Thailand with $2.94 Billion, according to the Ministry of National Planning Development.

Burma's Evolving Opposition

A total of 37 political parties stood for more than 1,100 seats across two houses of parliament and 14 local legislative assemblies for the seven states and seven regions.

The parties included the pro-regime USDP, the NUP representing the regime which had ruled the country between 1962 and 1988, and a plethora of other, smaller parties, including the NDF - the splinter party from the pro-democracy NLD which had withdrawn from the elections and advocated a boycott.

They also included a large number of ethnic minority parties which were focused in particular on the representation of their ethnic group and were standing not across the whole country, but primarily in states where they had potential constituents.

Mostly however, especially in the urban areas, people were able to vote as they pleased. The counting in each polling station, in many but not all cases held in front of party representatives and members of the public, registered wins for opposition and ethnic minority candidates alongside those of pro-regime candidates.

Campaign groups, the NLD, and other anti-election forces will say that this is no surprise. Yet despite this the elections still matter. Those in Rangoon report that people are upset - but they also say that the teashops are buzzing with political talk.

Politics is legal again, people are openly supportive of legally accepted opposition parties.

The main outcome of the elections has been that the new opposition parties - who decided to try to bring change within the structures allowed by the regime, have gained popular support.

Loosely known as "the third force", they were considered of little importance until now. They are cautioning that people need to press on and remind that no-one ever thought the process of change would be easy.  Their leaders are now waiting to see how the institutionalization of the new structures will play out. Their role is to maintain the existing political space open whilst preparing to use it for the next elections in five years.

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1 comment:

AfroBritish said...

Guess the Election has finally taken place and the people are happy with the result. long long democracy the for Myanmar people.