Burma’s Rohingya refugee crisis fits pattern of faltering reforms, weak leadership


Myanmar’s unwillingness to deal with the Rohingya refugee crisis fits a broader pattern of faltering reforms and indecisive leadership, the FT’s John Reed writes:

The most serious crisis since Myanmar [also known as Burma] began its transition to democracy in 2011, the conflict has left Aung San Suu Kyi caught between an international community demanding accountability and her own public, which is in a jingoistic and unforgiving mood. It has also reinforced the fragile state of Myanmar’s incomplete democratic transition, which left the military with three key ministries, a quarter of seats in parliament and control over the army and police.

Burmese and foreign businesspeople, diplomats and others interviewed by the Financial Times, some of whom spoke anonymously because of political sensitivities, are now voicing doubts as to whether Myanmar’s leader will be up to the task.

“In my view, Myanmar’s transition has birth defects — especially the constitutional arrangement of mixing elected government and the guardianship of the Tatmadaw [military],” says Ko Ye Myo Hein, executive director of the Tagaung Institute of Political Studies (right) in Yangon. “If the elected civilian government cannot make attempts to change the game, the transition will die a slow death, in the graveyard of hybrid regimes.”

Suu Kyi has much in common with other politicians and activists who led authoritarian or totalitarian countries during a transition to democracy: Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Lech Walesa in Poland, Boris Yeltsin in Russia, Patricio Aylwin in Chile, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, just to name a few, analyst Anne Applebaum [a National Endowment for Democracy board member] writes for The Washington Post:

Though very different, all of them faced the same structural problem: how to instill tolerance for democratic debate, freedom of speech and the press, respect for judicial independence and the rule of law in countries that were unused to these things or had never had them. All of them had rocky moments or faced coup attempts or corruption scandals. Some of them had some success. Others failed, and no wonder: Democratic values can take generations to instill — or can, as we have seen in the United States, grow rapidly weaker even in countries that have had them for generations.

Meanwhile, civil society groups and Myanmar’s Muslim community, who make up about 4 per cent of the population, have criticised Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration for doing little to calm the country’s sectarian tensions, The FT adds:

The Burma Human Rights Network this month published research saying that conditions for the Rohingya had worsened in the four years since, and alleged “ongoing systematic persecution” of Muslims well into the current period of pseudo-civilian rule, including a sharp rise in villages erecting signs declaring themselves “Muslim-free”.

“They need some kind of action against ultranationalist groups, who are very dangerous for the transition process,” says Aung Ko Ko, head of Mosaic Myanmar, a civil society group that promotes tolerance between Buddhists and minority Muslims and Christians.


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