- Ethnicity, Citizenship and Identity in Post-2016 Myanmar
Myanmar has been experiencing less peaks than troughs in its transformation after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a landslide victory in the November 2015 polls, took office in 2016. The NLD inherited deep-seated legacies and prejudices, as well as a unique blend of political identity entrenched over seventy years of civil war. From 2016's promise of being an annus mirabilis under a democratically elected government, Myanmar's fledgling democracy experienced several challenges, particularly in getting the economy back on track amidst ongoing negotiations on power- and resource-sharing with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), with whom the NLD's predecessor administration had engaged in a nationwide ceasefire process.
The years 2017 and 2018 were something of anni horribiles for the country. Foremost among the litany of disappointments decried by critics has been the NLD government's — and particularly Daw Suu's — reluctance to explicitly condemn violence against the Rohingya in the wake of a disproportionate response by Myanmar's armed forces, the Tatmadaw, to an armed insurgency in August 2017. The Tatmadaw's operations in the northern part of Myanmar's Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh were reported to have included rape, torture, and burning of villages, causing the largest exodus to date of some 700,000 Rohingya residing in Myanmar across the border to Bangladesh. Domestic support for Daw Suu [End Page 243] strengthened in proportion to the mounting international advocacy for human rights and humanitarian principles towards a community with whom many people in Myanmar feel no affinity. Within Myanmar, the Tatmadaw wields a constitutional veto as well as a considerable functional dominance in defence, home affairs and border affairs. The Tatmadaw, with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at its helm, is reportedly unhappy with this insinuated scapegoat role.1 Daw Suu and her cabinet members have continued the emphasis on national security when discussing the issue at home and abroad.
The NLD government has also acknowledged the effects of the international response on the country's economy. Speaking at the Myanmar Investment Forum organized by the Singapore Institute for International Affairs in September 2018, Aung Naing Oo, the head of Myanmar's Department for Investments and Company Administration, frankly admitted having "totally underestimated" the economic impact of the Rohingya issue, and that foreign direct investment (FDI) had declined in the two years since November 2016 when the crisis first erupted.2
Business confidence in the country's economic prospects also seems to have weakened. The Myanmar Insider's quarterly Myanmar Economic Confidence Index (2018 Q3) found that over 60 per cent of the survey respondents viewed the economy as "very bad" and expected it to worsen. There is a high degree of reluctance to make further investments in the economy, with 40 per cent indicating that they would be unlikely to do so and another 40 per cent unsure. Myanmar Insider also reported that most businesspersons surveyed were negative about the country's economic prospects, and that this lack of confidence would have a contagion effect on FDI.3
Hope for a change in this situation is now placed on the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan,4 launched in June 2018 and made available to the public in August 2018. The objectives and principles of the plan highlight an acknowledgement that the various sectoral plans and priorities needed stronger policy coherence and transparency, and that bold measures were necessary to "reinvigorate reform".
Since assuming office in 2015, the main focus of the NLD government has been on navigating peace negotiations with the numerous EAOs representing the myriad interests of the different ethnic nationalities, as well as entertaining other stakeholder inputs to the process. This was one of the main performance legitimacy targets by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) administration led by President Thein Sein. The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) process started by the USDP led to eight out of sixteen major EAOs signing the NCA in October 2015. The NLD government recast the NCA negotiations as the 21st [End Page 244] Century Panglong Conference, invoking the spirit of the 1947 Panglong meeting between Aung...