- Caretaking Democratization: The Military and Political Change in Myanmar by Renaud Egreteau
In Caretaking Democratization the French scholar Renaud Egreteau adds his voice to the growing body of literature on Myanmar's recent political transition. Egreteau already has a considerable number of publications on Myanmar under his belt, not least on the role of the military in the country's politics and the role of the national-level parliament since reforms were introduced in 2011. As such, it is not surprising that, like other academics, Egreteau sees endogenous rather than external factors as key to the "pacted" transition he says we have witnessed in Myanmar (p. 15). The title of the book clearly conveys the thrust of Egreteau's argument: namely, that when compared to the period of direct military rule that preceded it, the period between 2011 and early 2016 is one in which the military limited its interventionism in Myanmar politics to that of the "guardian" army. The Tatmadaw, the official name for the armed forces, remains the "last resort decision-maker" in the post-SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) hybrid system. For Egreteau, Myanmar's transition from military rule is a sui generis case (p. 3).
The book consists of six substantive chapters. In the opening chapter, Egreteau contextualizes the recent transition with reference to Myanmar's political history. His discussion shows that the "pacted" transition, which is also described as a "loose settlement" (p. 32), was sought by the military leadership, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy as well as ethnic leaders who were willing to compromise to move politics forward. As Egreteau explains, the transition was long planned by the military and can [End Page 393] be re-traced at the very least to the 2003 political roadmap to a discipline-flourishing democracy on which the then military regime embarked in the aftermath of the renewed detention of Suu Kyi if not to the early days of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. The importance of the role of wider social elites and political entrepreneurs as drivers of political transition has arguably been the focus of more detailed work published elsewhere. Nevertheless, Egreteau similarly maintains that "the 'Third Force' has participated in the shaping of the 'environmental conditions' necessary to the bargaining of a loose 'pact' once the SPDC was disbanded in 2011" (p. 36).
Chapter two describes the broadening of socio-political space under President U Thein Sein. Attention is given to the 2010, 2012 and 2015 elections and the expansion of civil society. However, Egreteau concentrates not only on the positives, and hence does not fail to mention either the disenfranchisement experienced by several groups or the issue of religious extremism. Drawing strongly on his previous work, Egreteau then examines the role of legislators in a revived parliamentary setting. Chapter three contains very interesting data and analysis on political parties and even key legislators. Egreteau notes that there has been some reliance on foreign funds for urgent parliamentary capacity building. Beyond noting external influences, he also outlines the problem of internal divisions and splits experienced by political parties.
Setting out the current pattern of military intervention in Myanmar politics, Egreteau looks at political violence, political fragmentation and ethnic and communal conflicts. He also devotes particular attention to the role of the military in legislative affairs. In his view, the Tatmadaw wants to maintain "direct policy influence" without having to rely on "a political proxy" (p. 91) and without having to indulge in party politics. He points out that while the military has a veto over matters of constitutional change, the armed forces do not have the same leeway to block normal legislative business. Egreteau does not view the military as an obstructionist force in parliament. Although he rarely positions himself explicitly as far as normative judgements are concerned, he notes that the armed forces being a "fully independent and unaccountable policy actor" in parliament is problematic (p. 92).
The Thein Sein administration understood that the realization of its wider political and economic...