Opinion


To this day, Burma’s military wields great power. The root of the dominance of the institution also known as the Tatmadaw, which considers itself to be the only stabilising force in the country, lies in the country’s 2008 Constitution.
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I recall vividly the first time I saw a tablet computer in this country. It was early 2011 in Myitkyina and the Tatmadaw’s Northern Command was flexing its muscles, a prelude to the new Kachin war.
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But Myanmar during its brief era of civilian rule from the late 1940s through most of the years to Ne Win’s 1962 military coup had such positions in government, and they were critical elements of management. They were apolitical and signified the highest civil service position in a ministry. They also provided guidance, competence and institutional memory. Many such individuals in Burma’s civilian government under U Nu in the 1950s were exceptionally well qualified.
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In years gone by, decisions in Myanmar’s courts were largely dictated to the judge by the military, with instructions given in sealed envelopes or by telephone. In early June, however, a court in central Myanmar caved to a different kind of pressure.
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The impact of Myanmar’s repressive policy toward Rohingya Muslims was made clear in recent weeks with scenes of desperate people crammed into boats, an escalation of a miserable maritime flight in which an estimated 90,000 people have fallen prey to smugglers and traffickers since early 2014. The United Nations estimates that around 1,000 people have died on the way.
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Not that long ago, it would have been unimaginable for Myanmar’s most famous political leader — former dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — to travel to Beijing at the invitation of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP). For decades, Beijing helped prop up Myanmar’s military junta that had placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. In mid-June, however, it rolled out the red carpet for her and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). In a telling break from protocol, the opposition leader even scored a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. “The invitation,” China’s state news agency Xinhua rather blithely wrote in an editorial just before the visit, shows that the CCP “stands ready to engage with any political parties as long as they are willing to promote the sound development of relations with China.”
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Ethnic party parliamentarians have been calling for a greater role in the peace process and should be important players once the political dialogue starts. However, recent research reveals that this new and important role they have played is now under threat. Ahead of the 2015 election, research was undertaken over five months to understand the role that ethnic parties play in Myanmar politics today, their views on the reform and peace processes, their thoughts about the ethnic armed groups, and the challenges they face in view of the polls. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with a total of 218 people at the headquarters of 36 parties in all ethnic states. The conversations revealed a complex yet vibrant ethnic political scene.
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They have been called the most persecuted minority in the world. The Rohingyas, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, have been driven from their villages; 140,000 of them have been herded into squalid camps. They cannot vote. Their children are shut out of local schools. They are subjected to mob violence with impunity. A new law seeks to limit how many babies they may have. Small wonder they flee.
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The Oslo Conference to End Myanmar’s Systematic Persecution of Rohingyas was held from May 26 to 28 at the Norwegian Nobel Institution in Oslo, Norway.
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Politics, as we all know, can make for strange bedfellows. Five years ago, few would have imagined that the Communist Party of China (CPC) would ever invite Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for a diplomatic visit. Alas, it happened.
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I have been a supporter of Burma’s democracy movement since 1993. For most of that time, the prospect of change seemed remote, and I felt increasingly discouraged.
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Burma’s national Parliament is a relatively peaceful place. After all, a heated debate among lawmakers is quite rare. A brawl over a bill, the likes of which we’ve recently seen in Taiwan and even Nepal, is unheard of in Burma’s five-year-old legislative chambers.
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The immediate Rohingya migration crisis – of gangster criminality, vessels set adrift, people starving and bodies exhumed – is galvanising action among those who can’t accept such evil. Efforts to avert these humanitarian tragedies must be supported.
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Over the past few days, the world has been increasingly concerned with the plight of thousands of men, women and children attempting to cross the Bay of Bengal. I empathise with their plight and share these concerns.
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Cubans beware: President Obama thinks that his Burma policy is a success and of a piece with his approach to Havana. (more…)

An unusual urgent proposal was submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on May 22. Its object was to suspend an invitation to tender.
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For close to two decades no-one accused Aung San Suu Kyi of lacking principles or courage.
From the early 1990s until her final release from house arrest in 2010 she was a brave symbol of defiance against what was then a brutal military dictatorship.
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Myanmar’s brittle international reputation has taken a pounding the past month, with countries across Southeast Asia calling on the leadership to do much better.
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When Myanmar was under British colonial rule for more than a century, nationalism was employed as a political ideology to rally the people toward independence. It was powerful enough to unite the people across the country and eventually force the British out. As a result, many people in Myanmar, as in other formerly colonised nations, fail to see the dark side of nationalism.
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Well, that didn’t last long. Claims by the country’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) that they were keen to include more women candidates for the November election appear to have fallen by the wayside after it emerged that a number of the country’s retired generals are looking for some way to occupy their time in their dotage.
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