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CIAO Focus, December 2012: Political Reform in Myanmar

Myanmar’s leaders continue to demonstrate that they have the political will and the vision to move the country decisively away from its authoritarian past, but the road to democracy is proving hard. President Thein Sein has declared the changes irreversible and worked to build a durable partnership with the opposition. While the process remains incomplete, political prisoners have been released, blacklists trimmed, freedom of assembly laws implemented, and media censorship abolished. But widespread ethnic violence in Rakhine State, targeting principally the Rohingya Muslim minority, has cast a dark cloud over the reform process and any further rupturing of intercommunal relations could threaten national stability. Elsewhere, social tensions are rising as more freedom allows local conflicts to resurface. A ceasefire in Kachin State remains elusive. Political leaders have conflicting views about how power should be shared under the constitution as well as after the 2015 election. Moral leadership is required now to calm tensions and new compromises will be needed if divisive confrontation is to be avoided.

The president has moved to consolidate his authority with his first cabinet reshuffle. Ministers regarded as conservative or underperforming were moved aside and many new deputy ministers appointed. There are now more technocrats in these positions, and the country has its first female minister. The president also brought his most trusted cabinet members into his office, creating a group of “superministers” with authority over broad areas of government – a move perhaps partially motivated by a desire to strengthen his position vis-à-vis the legislature. A dispute over a controversial ruling by the presidentially-appointed Constitutional Tribunal led to impeachment proceedings and the resignation of the tribunal members, highlighting both the power of the legislature, and the risks to a political structure in transition as new institutions test the boundaries of their authority.

--International Crisis Group


From the CIAO Database:

The Myanmar Economy: Tough Choices

Virtuality, Perception and Reality in Myanmar's Democratic Reform

Advancing Myanmar's Transition: A Way Forward for U.S. Policy

Myanmar: Storm Clouds on the Horizon

Myanmar: White elephant or new tiger economy?


Outside Sources: *

Burma profile (BBC News)

Embassy of Myanmar, Washington DC

Eyes of the Storm: Turning Points in Burmese History PBS Wideangle)

Southeast Asian Studies: Myanmar (Northern Illinois University)

Myanmar: Burma (National Geographic)

* Outside links are not maintained. For broken outside links, CIAO recommends the Way Back Machine.