Editorial


When the people of Myanmar went to the polling stations last November, I bet they shared the same overwhelming sentiments that swept over Indonesians back in 1999. Like their Myanmar cousins, Indonesians too were at the dawn of a momentous change – their biggest ever since breaking away from colonial rule.
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Recent political discussion in Myanmar revolves around the formation of a new government and selection of a president, but not enough attention is focused on the position of the attorney general, who holds a critical function in upholding rule of law and respect for human rights.
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After holding historic elections in November, Myanmar, also known as Burma, is undergoing a remarkable transition to constitutional democratic governance. I recently led a congressional delegation to the country to evaluate this sweeping change firsthand and gauge how the United States can continue to support Myanmar’s movement toward the free world.
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Burma’s peaceful elections were the high point of a year that saw the overall human rights situation in the country stagnate, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) under Aung San Suu Kyi won an overwhelming victory in structurally flawed but procedurally free nationwide elections. However, the number of political prisoners rose, repressive laws were used to suppress peaceful dissent, and discrimination against ethnic Rohingya Muslims expanded.
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In 2016,the question of lifting the on-going arms embargo and related sanctions against the Tatmadaw, as the Burma Army is known, and its civilian cronies will be revisited by Western governments. The fact that the current embargo imposed by the European Union and that has existed since 1998 is set to expire on April 30th makes this inevitable. While in some ways this will be a continuation of a process of lifting political and economic sanctions by these foreign governments that began in 2011 with the transition to quasi-civilian rule and then intensified after the 2012 electoral gains of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
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It is a blot on the face of humanity that we have yet to eradicate slavery – of children, no less. Not only does child slavery persist; the number of child slaves, 5.5 million, has remained constant in the last two decades. They are bought and sold like animals, sometimes for less than a pack of cigarettes. Add to their number the 168 million child labourers, 59 million out-of-school children, and 15 million girls under 15 who are forced to marry every year, and the situation is beyond unacceptable.
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Myanmar’s state-owned economic enterprises (SEEs) control vast amounts of public money. In recent years, more than 60 percent of all money collected by the Union government has passed through the SEEs. That means that every time the government builds a hospital, paves a road or pays a teacher’s salary, chances are some of the money it uses has transited through an SEE before reaching the state budget. What’s more, some of these companies appear to be amassing large sums of money – at levels reaching trillions of kyat – in opaque accounts not subject to ordinary budget processes. If the incoming National League of Democracy government wants to make meaningful progress in improving public sector performance, it will have to tackle SEE reform head-on.
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Last year I was often asked who would win the 2015 general election. The answer was obvious enough: The National League for Democracy was primed to triumph in any relatively free vote. No prizes for that prediction.
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On January 22, the Myanmar government sent a contradictory message on its sentencing of political prisoners.

Naypyidaw released 52 political prisoners while on the same day sentencing Kachin activist Patrick Khum Jaa Lee to six months in jail for a Facebook post. The 52 political prisoners released from five prisons nationwide last week – including Myintkyina, Putaoo and Insein – were part of the 101 total prisoners released by the government.
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The government of Myanmar’s departing president, Thein Sein, oversaw the systematic persecution of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority — a human rights debacle that one study has described as genocide. Mr. Thein Sein also signed four bills into law last year regulating interfaith marriage, birth spacing and religious conversion that clearly targeted Myanmar’s Muslim minority.
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The keys to Myanmar’s future peace and prosperity lie in the hands of Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing.

Parliamentary sessions pivotal to the shaping of Myanmar’s new political landscape get underway on February 1. This Parliament has roots in the military coup of 1962, but the landslide win for the National League for Democracy in November’s election means it will form the first democratic government in 50 years.
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It’s one of several unanswered questions in what looms as a new era in Burmese politics.

With Aung San Suu Kyi constitutionally barred from assuming the country’s highest office, what formal political position, if any, will the ever popular pro-democracy leader seek when her party takes power in late March? (more…)

This paper was a matter of some controversy last week when we ran a job advert in which we said we were looking to employ “Marketing Executives (Female only)”.
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Journalistic folk myth has it that in 1975 the highly reputed Far Eastern Economic Review predicted that by the year 2000, two countries would lead in Asia – the Philippines and Burma.
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When in November Sai Win Myat Oo, a candidate from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, ran for a seat in the Parliament of Shan State, in southern Myanmar, he was confident in his chances of being re-elected. The people of his constituency had consistently voted for the local Shan party in the past.
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A year ago this week, two young ethnic Kachin school teachers, Hkawn Nan Tsin, 21, and Maran Lu Ra, 20, were raped and murdered at a teacher’s dormitory in the town of Kaung Kha in Burma’s Shan State. The main suspects in this horrific crime are Burmese army soldiers stationed just a few hundred meters from where the women lived. The Burmese military strenuously denied the charges, staged a perfunctory investigation and threatened to take legal action against anyone who publicly alleged army personnel were responsible. To date, no one has been arrested for the crime and a police investigation is going nowhere.
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New parliamentary sessions which are the vital change of Myanmar history are going to be held on February 1. This parliament is the one that largely represents the public the military coup in 1962. It will elect new administration headed by National League for Democracy. It is the very first government elected by the public in fifty years. This is the result and the victory of the public’s desire through the 2015 election. Although there were credible confirmations for the power transferring, the country’s socio-politics is assumed as the political malaise in which the country’s politics, economy and social conditions are in dilemma.
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As 2016 begins, an historic contest is under way over competing development models – that is, strategies to promote economic growth – between China, on the one hand, and the US and other Western countries on the other. Although this contest has been largely hidden from public view, the outcome will determine the fate of much of Eurasia for decades to come.
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Myanmar is just weeks away from seeing whether the upbeat, forward-looking vocabulary of national reconciliation, trust and cooperation can be translated into workable arrangements between the ruling party, the military and the opposition when they trade places in parliament and government. In finding their own pace and tone within the confines of such concepts, Myanmar’s leaders will do well to remain mindful of the patience, effort and skill it took other leaders to move toward democracy.
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Myanmar is just weeks away from seeing whether the upbeat, forward-looking vocabulary of national reconciliation, trust and cooperation can be translated into workable arrangements between the ruling party, the military and the opposition when they trade places in parliament and government. In finding their own pace and tone within the confines of such concepts, Myanmar’s leaders will do well to remain mindful of the patience, effort and skill it took other leaders to move toward democracy.
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