Myanmar DictatorshipThe Myanmar dictatorship
Teaching a diktatorial neighbor
The first time I was in Thailand almost two centuries ago, the dominant position towards Myanmar was foreseeably hostile. Burma was regarded as backward, desperate and unprofitable. Thailand's schoolbooks dealt with ancient struggles between the buddhistic civilizations of Southeast Asia. Soon young college kids got the news of the malice of Myanmar's monarchs and the cruelty of their army.
Myanmar's population was at the lower end of the order, even lower than in Khmer or Laos. In Myanmar, where I was living, the only humans we ever encountered worked on natural caoutchouc estates or as domestic help. Many Myanmar laborers also arrived to do the manufacturing tasks that Thais were unwilling to do.
At that time Thailand was very popular - reasonably democratically, efficiently ruled and prepared for further commercial successes. On the surface at least, there was almost no comparision between Myanmar and Thailand. Myanmar was ridiculed under the State Peace and Development Council for its catastrophic track record in terms of respect for mankind and economics, and justifiably so.
Myanmar's messages driven across the border into Thailand have always been bad. Most Thais thought the remainder of Myanmar was a puzzle hidden behind linguistic and culturally unbridgeable barriers. At that time Thailand was regarded as the great democracy lighthouse of Southeast Asia. In the Thai case, what many had used to disregard was the way in which the power of the army and the Palestine would continue long after the normal election.
It has long ceased to be a democracy in its own right. Thailand's record of deconcentration provides clear insights into what can go awry when top power brokers put their own judgments above a referendum. Today the Thai are watching their words closely and are annoyed that they are subversively slandered.
Those who have been suffering under Myanmar's army regime in recent years are very much aware of these restrictions. Thailand has long provided Myanmar's Democratic people with a secure haven and assistance. Chiang Mai, Mae Sot and Mae Sai side streets reverberated for a long while with the Myanmar voice planning a better homehood.
The unbelievable thing about the recent change in policy is that Myanmar is now much more democracy and transparency than Thailand. The Thai nation is awaiting the end of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's historical ruler. Myanmar's new and democratically-elected administration has learned another lesson from the turmoil in Thailand.
No one in Myanmar wants to consider this now. However, the success of the failure of the Asian democracy flirting seems to suggest that the military seldom withdraw entirely from the conflict. At the moment Myanmar is the best democratically based wager in Southeast Asia. Mr Farrelly is Principal of the Myanmar Research Centre at the Australian National University and co-founder of New Mandala.