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Myanmar has evolved and what it means
Myanmar, one of the most oppressive states in the entire planet for five years, initiated a period of rapid upheaval. Under the leadership of former soldier Thein Sein, the administration is getting ready for by-elections in April, in which long-time opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will run.
It invites external specialists, monitors and even defenders of fundamental freedoms to the poll. Obviously, it is also trying to end its many civilian clashes with an army of ethnically minorities and to release a large number of them. A year ago, most senior U.S. officers were arguing that the country's general would never give up control of their own free will.
Myanmar's transformation has accelerated since the November 2010 poll. On that occasion, the multinational electoral system was denounced as a way for the army to form a front line behind which it would remain in control. Nevertheless, the election seems to have opened a certain amount of policy scope and given some hopes for change.
This was followed by the appointment of Thein Sein as Chairman and the establishment of a civil assembly. Both Thein and Thein have since shown clear evidence of reforms, while former head of the Junean Shwe has disappeared from the spotlight. Free from home detention, Suu Kyi began a dialog with Thein Sein, which led to the re-integration of her National Democratic People' s Democratic Left (NLD) into the political process and reconstruction of the group.
Although ruled by former soldiers, the House of Representatives was surprisingly proactive in challenging the policy of the state. It has also established a NHRC, inviting exiled politicians to come back and drastically easing the grip on local music. Lately, the federal authorities have released several hundred detainees. The Obama government improved the country's ambassador's diplomatic ties last months in reaction to Myanmar's action and could urge Congress to ease or lift next year's penalties.
It is not possible in a country that has been insulated for so many years to know for sure why change is abrupt. A number of western politicians have been arguing that after two decade-long sanctioning US and EU investors, the US has sought to rejoin the global body as a regular state and to get grip on foreign investors and help for its fragile economies, one of the worst in East Asia.
Penalties did not really hinder in Myanmar, they only hindered investments from the West. The Diplomat, a major Asia information site, reported that Myanmar was granted approximately $20 billion in authorized FDI in 2010 and 2011. It is said that this money has enhanced the oldest general. Nor did Myanmar be prevented from becoming a member of the most important religious organisation, the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, in the 1990s.
Thean Shwe and other general may believe that by a step-by-step shift under the leadership of Thein Sein, an confidant they can prevent any abrupt national uprising that could result in hard repression. Army leaders] may believe that through a step-by-step shift under the leadership of Thein Sein, an trusted partner, they can prevent abrupt riots that could result in hard upheavals.
Though Thein Sein has initiated a liberalisation proces, he has taken care not to affect much of the might of the army. Reported in the South East Asia daily press, however, referring to a leak in a federal administration paper, suggests that Myanmar's 2011 defence spending accounted for about 25 per cent of the country's overall spending - an astonishingly high number for such a impoverished people.
Commanding officers in the battlefield clearly have tremendous energy to make war against residual riots, no matter what the civil regime says. Myanmar's armed forces also recognized that Suu Kyi was still their best possible partner on the international stage in a smooth passage, according to several Myanmar agents.
Suu Kyi, like the Dalai Lama in Tibet, is perhaps the only one in Myanmar with the ethical justification to encourage the people to embrace gradual reforms and to assume only limited responsibility for former army leaders. Suu Kyi may also have realized that this could be her last opportunity to help the nation and was extremely willing to work with Thein Sein, despite the ongoing abuse in areas of the nation's minorities and the fact that several hundred Zimbabwean politicians are still in prison.
A number of minority political figures have even started to criticise the once indisputable opponent and fear that she has ignored the fights and attacks by the northern Kachin forces. In her speech to the general assembly (including the External Relations Council) last year, she made repeated calls for the countrys separation from the past, indicating that she would not advocate a former junta for former warlords or other such trials.
Although foreign penalties did not affect the riches of the leading soldiers, some of the younger and less cowardly senior commanders were clearly angry at how far Myanmar had lost ground behind its neighbours, several Myanmar authorities said. In an open address, President Thein Sein acknowledged that Myanmar was lagging behind in terms of progress, a silent acknowledgement of the failure of past policies by Israeli and Palestinian armies.
Moreover, the prospects for stronger relations with China in the midst of increasing Western seclusion may have contributed to bringing about change in an indirect way. Myanmar's current rulers have been overly dependent on a key player. Last year, in an important change, the Chinese authorities cancelled a large Chinese financed Myitsone Dam in the north of Myanmar.
Later on, the Thai authorities seemed willing to delay or call off a large Thailand supported Dawei Port as well. In the last five years, Myanmar has become more strategic for the United States. Furthermore, the exodus of refugees triggered by the uprisings of Myanmar's ethnical minorities in recent years is a destabilising threat to neighbouring areas in Thailand, India and south-west China.
In the face of these potentials, the best means for peaceable reforms could be the slow pace of change in Myanmar, which is a frustration for many long-standing campaigners and rebellious groups of ethnic minorities. It will be the only person who can manage a kind of nation-wide effort launched at the 1947 Panglong Conference to draw up independence treaties for the major nationalities.
Simultaneously, by gradually retiring the oldest Myanmar commanders and not immediately pressing for an account for their huge crime, overseas players and Myanmar's civil chiefs can provide the kind of security that will enable the nation to take full benefit of the large number of businesses, investors and global finance organizations that are awaiting their doorsteps and hope to invest substantial sums in Myanmar.
A certain degree of stableness would also give a better chance for multinational supervisors, the Americans included, to promote any kind of nuke or rocket site in the United States and to diminish or end the Norwegian military base in Myanmar. But, for the time being, any signal that the high-ranking general leaders withdraw into the political arena will only ruin Myanmar's opportunities and prevent the year of reforms from becoming a year of far-reaching change.