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Myanmar's Transition

Openings, Obstacles and Opportunities

edited by Nick Cheesman, Monique Skidmore and Trevor Wilson

Publication Year: 2012

With the world watching closely, Myanmar began a process of political, administrative and institutional transition from 30 January 2011. After convening the parliament, elected in November 2010, the former military regime transferred power to a new government headed by former Prime Minister (and retired general), U Thein Sein. With parliamentary processes restored in Myanmars new capital of Naypyitaw, Thein Seins government announced a wide-ranging reform agenda, and began releasing political prisoners and easing press censorship. Pivotal meetings between Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi led to amendment of the Election Law and the National League for Democracy contesting by-elections in April 2012. The 2011 Myanmar/Burma update conference considered the openings offered by these political changes and media reforms and the potential opportunities for international assistance. Obstacles covered include impediments to the rule of law, the continuation of human rights abuses, the impunity of the Army, and the failure to end ethnic insurgency.

Published by: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vii

List of Tables

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pp. viii-ix

List of Figures

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pp. x-11

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Background on the ANU 2011 Myanmar/Burma Update Conference

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pp. xi-xii

Committed since 2003 to its “Road Map” for national reconciliation, the military regime in Myanmar persevered with the adoption of a new constitution in 2008, then held multi-party elections in November 2010. Each of these steps was criticized for significant procedural and substantive flaws, and the overall process was neither democratic, transparent, nor inclusive. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The editors wish to thank the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) once again for its generous financial support for the 2011 Myanmar/Burma Update conference and for this publication of the conference papers. Without AusAID’s assistance, neither would have been possible. ...

Contributors and Editors

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pp. xv-xvi

Note on Terminology and Geographical Names

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pp. xvii-18

Map of Myanmar

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pp. xviii-19

Part I: Overview

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1. Interpreting the Transition in Myanmar

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pp. 3-20

The first elections in Myanmar since 1990, held on 7 November 2010, were a significant moment in the country’s political life. Admittedly, the elections were organized to ensure continuity of ultimate military control, and to adapt and preserve such control rather than to make a break with the past. ...

Part II: Introduction

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2. White Elephants and Black Swans: Thoughts on Myanmar’s Recent History and Possible Futures

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pp. 23-36

George Orwell in Shooting an Elephant said that in Myanmar “a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes”. As an historian by training, I am usually fairly reluctant to predict things. But today I am even more reluctant to predict very much, because Myanmar’s future is less predictable now ...

Part III: Political Update

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3. Myanmar’s Political Landscape Following the 2010 Elections: Starting with a Glass Nine-Tenths Empty?

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pp. 39-51

The Myanmar/Burma Update conference at which this paper was presented took place six months after the elections, one hundred days after the convening of legislatures, and fifty days after the new government took over. It was thus a good moment to take an initial look at developments in the political situation. ...

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4. Ceasing Ceasefire? Kachin Politics Beyond the Stalemates

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pp. 52-71

Myanmar carries the tragic distinction of hosting the world’s longest-running civil wars. These conflicts — some of which commenced almost immediately after the Second World War — have frustrated attempts to bring about lasting and peaceful resolutions.1 The civil wars colour relations between the country’s ethnic minorities, ...

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5. Perceptions of the State and Citizenship in Light of the 2010 Myanmar Elections

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pp. 72-88

The concept of citizenship is directly linked to the nature of the nation state. Whilst there is a debate about whether citizenship can exist under a military dictatorship (Heater 2004; Mitra 2011), the shift from Myanmar’s military junta to a parliamentary system heavily dominated by the military does pose new questions about the concept of citizenship ...

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6. The Burmese Jade Trail: Transnational Networks, China and the (Relative) Impact of International Sanctions on Myanmar’s Gems

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pp. 89-116

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, as the song goes. So is Burmese jade for a Chinese, or for any gem and jade dealer settled along the China-Myanmar borders. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but it is thought that today thousands of Myanmar-origin jadestones worth several million U.S. dollars are traded every year in China, most particularly in the border province of Yunnan. ...

Part IV: Economic Update

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7. Taking Stock of Myanmar’s Economy in 2011

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pp. 119-136

The year 2011 may prove to have been a milestone for the Myanmar economy because until 30 March the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military government managed the economy, but after that date a new “civilian” government, exercising power under Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution, took office. ...

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8. Reform and Its Limits in Myanmar’s Fiscal State

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pp. 137-155

In 2011 Myanmar’s economy remains in stalled transition. Twenty years from the first tentative steps away from rigid state control, the reform momentum that appeared promising in the early 1990s has dissipated into an uncertain redistribution of economic power amongst state, state-connected, and private entities. ...

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9. Devising a New Agricultural Strategy to Enhance Myanmar’s Rural Economy

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pp. 156-182

In the past two decades, the system of centrally planned agricultural policies that were introduced under the “Burmese Way to Socialism” and that had existed since 1962 has been progressively dismantled, although slowly and incompletely. It would be fair to state that over the two decades since 1988, following the introduction of policy oriented towards the development of a market economy, ...

Part V: The Role of the Media

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10. The Role of the Media in Myanmar: Can It Be a Watchdog for Corruption?

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pp. 185-203

The mass media today in Myanmar remains largely under the control of the state, although there has been a noticeable degree of relaxation. The state continues to use the media as a tool for advancing the political and socio-economic interests of the ruling regime, as it has since the era of centrally-planned socialism, from 1962 to 1988. ...

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11. The Emergence of Myanmar Weekly News Journals and Their Development in Recent Years

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pp. 204-214

When we in Myanmar say a “gja ne” (journal) we mean a weekly news magazine or a newspaper that is published weekly, usually in the format of a tabloid and containing about thirty-six to sixty pages. ...

Part VI: The Rule of Law

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12. Critical Issues for the Rule of Law in Myanmar

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pp. 217-230

Jurists debate the meaning of the rule of law, and define it from various points of view, yet for centuries the basic principle has rested in the idea that the law applies to all. In The Republic, written in the first century BC, Cicero condemned the king who does not abide by the law as a despot who is the foulest and most repellant creature imaginable (Tamanaha 2004, pp. 11–12). ...

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13. Myanmar’s Courts and the Sounds Money Makes

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pp. 231-248

In 2007, Deputy Township Judge U Sein Lwin lost his job and went to jail. His alleged crime was to have solicited bribes so that three women would not become co-accused in a case before him. A prosecutor charged the judge under the 1948 Prevention of Corruption Act, and a court in Taunggyi promptly sentenced him to seven years in prison. ...

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14. The “New” Supreme Court and Constitutional Tribunal: Marginal Improvement for Judicial Independence or More of the Same?

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pp. 249-268

On 30 March 2011 a “new” Burmese government was sworn in. A sevenmember Supreme Court and nine-member Constitutional Tribunal are among the new organs of state formed under the 2008 Constitution that “came into operation” with the new government.1 This chapter addresses the issue of whether, under the new government, ...

Part VII: The Continued Importance of International Assistance

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15. Rethinking International Assistance to Myanmar in a Time of Transition

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pp. 271-286

Myanmar’s new government is taking the country in new directions. Early statements by President Thein Sein have been surprisingly frank and honest in their assessment of the country’s deep-seated problems, and have committed the government to a wide-ranging agenda of social, political, and economic reform. ...

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16. European Union-Myanmar Relations in a Changing World: Time for Paradigm Shift

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pp. 287-299

Relations between the European Union (EU) and Myanmar in 2011 are at their lowest ebb. The EU has maintained restrictive measures against Myanmar for over two decades, citing as justification egregious violations of human rights in the country and the lack of progress towards democratization. ...

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17. Prospects for a Policy of Engagement with Myanmar: A Multilateral Development Bank Perspective

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pp. 300-322

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is the region’s most significant multilateral development bank (MDB), providing financing and expertise that supports projects and programmes across Southeast Asia. Since the mid-1980s, however, neither the ADB nor the World Bank has provided significant direct assistance to Myanmar. ...

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18. Context Sensitivity by Development INGOs in Myanmar

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pp. 323-348

Myanmar is a difficult country for international non-government organizations (INGOs) to operate in effectively. It has significant humanitarian needs but the domestic and international political environments hamper effective assistance. On the one hand, agencies working in Myanmar face a sometimes obstructive, and often inept, ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 349-352


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pp. 353-374

E-ISBN-13: 9789814414173
Print-ISBN-13: 9789814414166

Page Count: 374
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1