Myanmar DictatorshipThe Myanmar dictatorship
Policy-making after the Myanmar regime
While Myanmar's volatile process of democratization continues, many commentators are divided between early, high expectations of the end of government and increasing gloom over broader political, economical and societal reform. However, it does reveal a fragmentary view of Myanmar's contemporary past and its lasting effects on the state.
The Asia Foundation recently published a report describing how half a hundred years of Myanmar's army has taken away the political institutions necessary for a democracy with its need for plurality, openness and conciliation. A 1962 war putsch under the leadership of General Ne Win Myanmar wiped out broken and deficient Myanmar's parliamentarian system, which had developed from Britain's settlement, and substituted it with a military-led Nazi-ruled system.
It was a regimen that continued until 1988, when another putsch established a senior general Than Shwe-led army jungle. Whilst the perception of poor and inefficient pro-democracy government provided most of the reasons for the country's armed forces' government, Ne Win and Than Shwe were often incapable of reaching agreement in the police force, despite the "unity" dictated by the ruling party.
Moreover, the overriding political priority of the governing elite was the militarys own interests, especially the surviving government. Political choices have focused on safety and income producing mineral extraction and not on questions of societal protection, such as healthcare and training, which would have called for a political machinery that would have been responsive to the needs of the population.
Consequently, the transition administrations of U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came into a paralyzing shortfall in important bureaucratic capacity, particularly in the area of policy-making. Politics was focused at the top, a country's army dictatorship made almost all the important choices. Without a deeply rooted pluralist political institution without an institution, parliamentarians, officials, political institutions and other important actors have little political input.
Myanmar's present administration has few clearly articulated political process or instruments, such as the routinely use of whitepapers to express policies, or specific political entities to equip heads of state with political choices, and few are able to assist electoral regimes in developing them. From a historical point of view, defence politics was also a mysterious undertaking by nature.
This has caused great uncertainty for the entire state machinery, the press, civic groups and the general population about the government's decision-making and political objectives, and information from the state is still mistrusted. Massively changing governance triggered by the 2008 constitutional changes have unavoidably posed political challenge as Myanmar has sought to implement reform in a variety of areas, including democratization, trade liberalization and a nationwide peacemaking mechanism.
What is more, the tension between the army and the National League for Democracy (NLD) governed goverment over the role of institutionality assigned to the army by the 2008 draft condition of the army, which has hindered the actual operation of some important state bodies. Whilst the important issues of fundamental reforms, democracy and civil-military ties that are ahead may slightly cast a shadow over the more everyday issues of policy-making - such as technological capacities, administrative structure and the exchange of information - policy-making in practice and the bodies that assist it must not slacken if the country's transitions are to progress further.
While this is a challenge, it is not an impossibility to improve political decision-making in Myanmar. Whilst some changes will have to await significant structural reforms, much can be done by improving current structure and procedures, with the focus on greater institutionalization. This new Asia Foundation review contains several hands-on suggestions to this end: to clarify and publicize the government's reforms objectives.
Utilize better information to help shape policies. Diversification of stakeholders in policy-making - for example by promoting input from political institutions, developing countries and civic societies. Strengthening the red tape to give more political backing - for example by strengthening the role of standing secrearies and important ministries such as research entities.
Given the legacies of the Myanmar army regime, Myanmar's electoral authorities face a major policy-making challenges, with serious implications for the speed and the very essence of the democratic and prosperous process. In view of the seriousness of what has happened in the state of Rakhine and increasing doubt about the speed of reforms, the global community is right to call on the NLD-led authorities to react more efficiently.
But it is also up to the global international fellowship to comprehend the continuing impact of the Myanmar authoritarian regime's continuing past and the ubiquitous impact of the army, as embodied in the 2008 constitutional treaty. To overcome this unhappy past calls for the support of the chosen administration in reforming and strengthening important political procedures and structure to successfully cope with the changes.
Arnold is the Asia Foundation's Myanmar Vice President and co-author of The Asia Foundation's Management Chance together with Su Mon Thazin Aung: in Myanmar.