The gov­ern­ment’s tight­en­ing grip

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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