Understanding Reform in Myanmar – a new configuration of power?


The National League for Democracy’s vigorous support of the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord and national political dialogue along with efforts to strengthen the parliament and other existing institutions can help to unlock Burma’s present constitutional stalemate, argues Min Zin, a student activist in Burma’s 1988 democracy movement, currently a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

If the NLD leadership promotes inclusiveness and seeks genuine reconciliation rather than ad hoc bargains of political convenience, the national political dialogue could result in real progress toward building a federal democratic union. Whether that happens will depend largely on the leadership and political craftsmanship of Burma’s key stakeholders—the NLD, the Tatmadaw, and the ethnic armed organizations, he writes for The Journal of Democracy.

At the heart of a new book – Understanding Reform in Myanmar: People and Society in the Wake of Military Rule, by Marie Lall – is a rigorous look at the reform process over the past few years, written partly from an insider’s viewpoint, The Economist notes:

Ms Lall continued to work with NGOs and colleges in Myanmar even when the country was largely boycotted by the West before 2010. She emphasises the role that civil-society organisations played in Myanmar’s transition, particularly Myanmar Egress. This think-tank was formed by intellectuals to bridge the gap between the few in the government who did actually want to reform and the NLD. Certainly one legacy of those years is that Myanmar does have a flourishing network of local NGOs. That should help to embed democracy.

Following the 2007 Saffron Revolution and the trauma of Cyclone Nargis the following year, this group of well-connected political and social activists worked within the constraints of the 2008 Constitution to ramp up a capacity for change in the country, reviewer Ashley South writes for The Irrawaddy:

For Lall, Nay Win Maung and his colleagues at the Myanmar Egress deserve much of the credit for spurring this change before and after the 2010 elections. According to this reading, the transition in Burma is primarily indigenous, driven by a need for an escape (“egress”) from decades of military (mis)rule and by the passion and vision of a small group of Burmese society activists.

One might question whether the Myanmar Egress guys (and they are mostly men) can really be described as a part of civil society, given their cozy business and government connections. For me, Lall somewhat overplays the role of Myanmar Egress, which later gave birth to the Myanmar Peace Center that opened in late 2012. Both institutions have been hugely influential in the country’s transition. Yet other factors should also be taken into account. RTWT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email