Back­wards, for­wards, stand­ing still

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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