Myanmar: Whatever next?

Published Date


Myanmar Briefing Note No. 24

6 April 2012

Myanmar:  Whatever next? 

Easter is upon us, and the Thingyan New Year festivities will follow. After the roller-coaster of the last two weeks, we all need a break. Election observer groups are putting the final touches to their reports, the detailed results of the by-elections have yet to be published and psephologists, amateur and professional, have yet to pronounce. The National League for Democracy is about to make a formal statement. The Election Commission has already admitted that they waxed the USDP box on the ballot paper, thus compelling voters to mark the NLD box instead. 

The United States has called off its Bush-era comprehensive financial and economic warfare against Myanmar and its people and has embraced modern enlightened principles of "smart" sanctions against those whom Hillary Clinton sees are "on the wrong side of these historic reform efforts". Not that there are any "smart" sanctions available, but it's politically wise to pretend that there are. As recent changes in Myanmar couldn't possibly be a result of the efforts of the Burmese people and even less of their new leaders, Western sanctions protagonists proclaim the wisdom and success of their policies, not for a moment accepting that the pauperisation of the people was ever their intention.  Human rights activists are fighting a losing battle however against the suspension of sanctions because of their human rights implications. 

We learnt with some surprise from  US Senior Administration Official One that the name Myanmar "has been used historically, and in fact Burma is the bastardization, it is what some of the British original settlers thought they heard when the people they interacted first used the term Myanmar." This would have come as a surprise to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's father, General Aung San, who was a founder member of "Do Bama Asi-ayone" or the "We Burma Association", no doubt borrowing "Bama" back from the British colonialists who had occupied his country, and eschewing "Do Myanmar Asi-ayone" because (to be serious for a moment) "Myanmar" only reflected the historical Burmese kingdom and "Bama" was a much broader concept. 

The Union Solidarity and Development Party, who had some good candidates but who lost out mostly to NLD unknowns only half their age with little experience of life, will be conducting a rigorous post mortem. It needs to restructure itself as a modern political party. They may well be tempted to follow the populist policies which were employed by Thaksin Shinawatra so successfully in Thailand a few years ago. In 2015 NLD concerns for the rule of law could then be in competition with USDP-donated mobile telephones. 

Another blistering success for the NLD in the 2015 elections is already proclaimed, but life is not that easily predictable and there are numerous politicians in the making, if not already made, like 88-Generation Students Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. They probably have no plans to join up with the NLD which is overwhelmingly dependent on a single world-famous personality. Then there are the business entrepreneurs for whom new-style Burmese politics could prove attractive. The concentration of power in a single political party does not encourage democracy. The Burmese people, though, have earned their moment of euphoria. Reality will set in soon enough. 

Since their success in the 1990 Elections, when the NLD annulled the results by demanding immediate power in defiance of the constitutional process set out in advance by the military regime,  the party has been fortunate to survive. In a purely legislative parliament, however, there is no "opposition" since the USDP is not the Government and however much Suu Kyi may press for amendment of the Constitution, there is likely to be little or no appetite for this among the majority of Representatives, let alone the Executive. If the Constitution is to be amended, it is much more likely to be in the context of the resolution of the ethnic imbroglio when the parties meet in conference at national level to elaborate a political solution which could grant a measure of autonomy to the ethnic States. 

The dust needs to settle, observer reports to be completed and issued,  EU High Representative Catherine Ashton to visit the country and the EU Foreign Affairs Council to pronounce on 23 April 2012 what "gesture" (Alain JuppĂ©) the EU can agree to make. By that time, though, American businessmen and investors, notably in banking, telecommunications, tourism, agro-industry and other approved sectors, will be well on their way to study the market. European businessmen will be travelling incognito, unless they are German, Italian, Austrian or Spanish. 

So what has happened to those natural gas revenues in the 2012-2013 budget which is now operational, and is the US really about to abandon its restrictions on access to the US financial markets? By the end of the month, we might know the answers, though more probably not. 

Meanwhile, Happy Easter and Happy Thingyan! We've all earned it. 

Derek Tonkin

Chairman Network Myanmar


2011 Vietnam Populist Party (VNPP) - Vietnam Populist Party (VNPP).
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