Backwards, forwards, standing still
This is the last issue of Mizzima in 2014. The next edition will hit the shops on the first day of the New Year, after we take a week's break for the festive season. What kind of a year was it for Myanmar's transition? Of course, transitions comprise many smallers actors, each with their own momentum, but it is safe to say that 2014 was a year of waning enthusiasm and even some backtracking.
Much of the media's attention and that of international organisations, including UN agencies, humanitarian aid outfits and human rights groups, was devoted to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State. As a result, little attention was paid to poverty in Chin State, Myanmar's poorest province, or the 100,000 internally displaced people in Kachin State, who face the prospect of being returned to the land mine-infested areas from which they fled.
Media freedom suffered a big setback in 2014 with a series of arrests, the closure of some journals and increased visa pressure on foreign journalists working in Myanmar.
On the other hand, the release of most political prisoners deserves recognition.
What is most striking is that two essential processes for a better Myanmar, the peace talks and constitutional reform, seem to have stalled. The peace talks got off to a good start but came to a grinding halt later in the year, as outlined in a review of the troubled process elsewhere in this edition. The army's effective veto and the blocking of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's eligibility for the presidency by constitutional means remain non-negotiable.
Dialogue on these issues among all key actors came to naught as well. The fourteen-way talks initiated by President U Thein Sein ended, predictably, without result. For the time being, it is unclear if the pending six-way talks will fare any better. The government for now seems happy with the stalemate.
It is difficult to read the minds of the strategists in Nay Pyi Taw and their chief advisors at the Myanmar Peace Center, but an overall impression is one of the army and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party not being ready to let go of power yet.
As the situation stands, the elections due to take place in 2015 might be reminiscent of the previous general election, as is suggested by harsh draft campaigning rules that hark back to 2010.
Might it be that the Tatmadaw has decided in accord with the USDP that it needs another five years before it returns to the barracks and leaves the governing of the country to parties with a real democratic mandate?
The powers that be may use the failure to reach a peace agreement and the humanitarian crises in Rakhine and Kachin states to justify the need for continued military involvement in government, as was the case when the junta was in power and used unrest and civil war as tools to legitimise army rule. Old habits die hard.
It's appropriate to finish the year in an upbeat mood and there is much to positive about. The expansion of dialogue within the political system and in the business and civil society communities is changing Myanmar for the better. The welcome expansion of the telecommunications sector will further empower the people by giving them increased access to information. To the credit of many MPs, parliament is striving to do its job and is not the rubber stamp some had expected and the nation has also benefitted from some legislative and economic liberalisation measures.
Transitions take time, especially in multi-ethnic post-conflict countries where years of distrust need to be overcome. No quick fixes can be expected. The transition promises to be a lengthy affair of two steps forward one step back.
We can expect much action in 2105, but in a year's time the show shall be far from over.