Editorial


A week before last Friday’s mass release of political prisoners, on the day that the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government of Aung San Suu Kyi officially assumed power, social media in Burma lit up with images that perfectly captured the joy of the occasion. Pictures of Kachin peace activist Patrick Khum Jaa Lee’s reunion with his wife, fellow activist and International Women of Courage Award recipient May Sabe Phyu, went viral as he was freed after serving six months in prison for mocking Burma’s armed forces leader on Facebook.
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It has been a long, hard road, but Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is finally set to assume the role of Myanmar’s top civilian leader. Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory last November in the country’s first free election in a quarter century. But a provision in Myanmar’s military-drafted Constitution barred Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from becoming president because her children are British citizens.
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On 30 March, Htin Kyaw, a long-time adviser and ally of Aung San Suu Kyi – whose National League for Democracy party achieved a historic victory in recent elections – became the first elected civilian to hold office in Myanmar since the army took over in 1962.
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Aung San Suu Kyi’s first official duty as Myanmar’s foreign minister after her National League for Democracy took government was fittingly to meet her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi (??). No country is as economically important to the newly democratic nation as China, nor as significant for its development. For Beijing, there are also strategic, security and cultural reasons to be quick to ensure good relations. It is in the interests of both that the pragmatism on show throughout the visit remains a mainstay of ties.
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Sai Thiha Kyaw is a two-term lawmaker in the lower house of Burma’s parliament representing Mongyai Township in northern Shan State.
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This year it is Mandalay that has broken the bounds of all reason or responsibility by threatening to imprison women who appear in outfits deemed too skimpy during water festival.
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Laos is not a major player in regional affairs. It tends to be viewed as a rather strange backward country where little happens and no one cares very much if it does.
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Burma, once isolated regionally and globally, is rapidly opening up with ongoing political reforms. Foreign affairs representatives from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in particular are now anticipating a relationship with a new Burmese counterpart. Yet she is no stranger to them: the foreign minister is also the country’s charismatic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
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In October 2013, we commented on the need for the reform of agriculture and closely related fields, including veterinary science, in Myanmar (see “Agricultural Reform: It Don’t Come Easy”). In particular, we raised the urgent need to merge the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation with the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development. We also suggested reform of the training of graduates who support agricultural, veterinary and related fields by creating a comprehensive university to train them.
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In addition to the foreign minister, the NDSC comprises the following members: the president and the two vice presidents; the two parliamentary Speakers; the commander-in-chief and his deputy; and the three ministers named by the commander-in-chief, that is, the ministers for defence, home affairs and border affairs.
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Even as democracy continues to flounder in neighboring Thailand, Myanmar registered a monumental event last week, when it swore in its first democratically elected civilian president in over five decades. To be sure, this isn’t the end of the struggle for democracy in Myanmar. The country’s laws still reserve key subjects of governance – including home, defense, and border affairs – for military representatives, who still occupy a quarter of the seats in Parliament under statutory requirements. And laws also prevented democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president, forcing her to appoint a close aide, Htin Kyaw, to that post instead.
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Aung San Suu Kyi will have her hands full over the next few months as she seeks to lead two of Myanmar’s most important ministries. Unfortunately a woman at the head of two ministries does not two women ministers make. With Aung San Suu Kyi’s appointment as the only female minister, the number of women ministers has effectively been cut in half; there used to be two.
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The election of Htin Kyaw as Myanmar’s president – the country’s first civilian president in over five decades – marks a major transition of power in the country. In this transition, Myanmar has to overcome the legacies of decades of misrule, such as ethnic insurgencies, an underdeveloped financial system and an inefficient civil service. Given Hong Kong’s experience in professional services, geopolitical proximity and policy priorities, there is much we can do to facilitate a smooth political transition and economic progress in Myanmar.
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When the first act of a new legislature is to circumvent its country’s written constitution, it’s usually a bad sign. Not so in Myanmar, where the democratically elected parliament moved last week to create the post of “state counselor” and give the job to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader and symbol of Myanmar’s long struggle against military dictatorship.
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The new NLD government is risking the country’s future by trying to concentrate power in one pair of hands
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The State Department’s minimization of the plight of the Rohingya is sending dangerous, mixed messages to Myanmar and its neighbors.
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March 30 marked a historic day for Burma, as the Southeast Asian nation that was for decades beleaguered by military rule saw its first democratically elected civilian government since 1962 sworn into office.
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Last week I wrote about the lamentable lack of women in Myanmar’s new cabinet. It provoked a mixed reaction.
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Myanmar’s incoming civilian government this month announced plans to introduce a Ministry for Ethnic Affairs. The creation of this ministry, together with the appointment of a Christian vice-president for this Buddhist-majority country, seems calculated to reduce the number and severity of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts. It coincides with a major and related Unicef-backed initiative to create a Myanmar National Language Policy (NLP).
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The Myanmar Times asked several ambassadors for their views on the challenges and priorities that lie ahead for the new government, and what investment opportunities they see.
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