The government’s tightening grip
NGO groups and activists cried foul last week after the Myanmar Upper House passed a controversial amendment to the peaceful demonstration bill.
The push by the National League for Democracy-led parliament is supposed to prevent those with hidden agendas from setting up and funding protests and lower the odds of racial and religious demonstrations and violence.
In theory, this is all well and good.
The current Myanmar civilian government is caught between a rock and a hard place. It does not have full control over the levers of state – given important ministries,and the armed forces are under the control of the Military. And it is aware that it could face problems from hardline political, racial and religious groups.
But activists have voiced concern that the amendments to the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law – which prescribes up to three years in prison for funding a protest – could further restrict people’s freedom of expression and also stifle dissent.
The bill will be returned to the Lower House of Parliament and if there are no objections will be signed into law by the President.
The Myanmar government’s push to tighten this law should be viewedin terms of the overall swing towards authoritarian rule in Myanmar. There are worrying indications that the drive towards more democratic governance has not only halted but is slipping backwards. Freedom of expression and press freedom appear to be under attack. And the government seems to be hunkering down and putting on blinders as it suffers from international criticism of their handling of the Rakhine crisis.
It is hard to know how these restrictions and tightening of the screws plays out for the ordinary Myanmar citizen. Although there have been protests against the changing of the protest law, this change and the slipping towards authoritarianism is unlikely to affect the daily lives of most citizens.
On an international level, the dream of an enlightened democratic Myanmar under the leadership of a human rights icon has made way for disappointment and a scramble to reassess progress as the country continues to struggle to throw off the shackles of military rule.
This latest parliamentary vote, if ratified and passed for signature, may well be viewed by some inside and outside Myanmar as yet another sign that governance of the Golden Land remains tarnished.