Opinion


Foreign observers of Myanmar’s changing social and cultural landscape have watched with great concern the flood tide of religious nationalism as conservative and radical Buddhist groups have expressed fears of a Muslim spiritual and social invasion that they have perceived to threaten their religious views. Coming from religious organizations such as Ma Ba Tha and the Myanmar Patriotic Monks Union, they seem to have had wide popular support, or at least popular acquiescence, for who can publicly disagree with the pronouncements of eminent members of the sangha? The legislature has passed laws intended to prevent this perceived disease from spreading. To those addicted to democratic traditions and open societies, this is illustrative of very disquieting development, even as right-wing nationalistic groups gain prominence in many Western societies.

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It is five years since fighting resumed in Kachin State between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation. The anniversary of this unfortunate event was marked recently by civil society groups, including the Kachin Peace Network.

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I am sometimes asked by foreign reporters why Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) government is “ignoring” the Muslim Rohingya in Arakan State—a minority group suffering from discrimination and the denial of their human rights.

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The NLD has made much of its 100-day plan but has not fulfilled its pledge to reveal its early goals in their entirety, while some promises have no chance of being met.

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The West has rejoiced at the election of a new government dominated by the National League for Democracy and headed, in effect, by the party’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. But for the Muslims of western Rakhine State Myanmar’s new era is already turning out to be a disappointment. There is almost certainly worse to come.

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Ever since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now state counsellor, admitted to the media that she is not an icon of democracy or a human rights defender so much as a working politician, she has been subjected to relentless criticism.

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Burma was subjected to military rule for nearly five decades between the late dictator Ne Win’s coup in 1962 and former Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s abdication in 2010. Everyone says the country was destroyed by the authoritarian rulers. Generally speaking, they are right.

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It is four years since religious violence erupted in Rakhine State and a settlement of the conflict between its ethnic Rakhine and Muslim communities remains elusive.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s new civilian government is in a unique position to radically change the status of ethnic relations in Myanmar. As Suu Kyi’s remarks alongside Secretary of State John Kerry on May 22 made clear, minority rights and civil strife are still pressing issues that the international community is waiting for her to address. In her statements, she prioritized finding “a practical solution” to these matters. Such options are available to her. Using her malleable set of responsibilities and public image, she can implement new policies to end the civil wars in her country by appealing to the historical precedent set by her father in the Panglong Agreement of 1947.

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Ever since the electoral triumph of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar, speculation has been growing about its foreign policy — how much continuity and change will occur — under the new government relative to its predecessors.

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Who profits from the oil, gas and mining industries? And how do citizens benefit from resource extraction? Myanmar has made significant progress toward addressing these questions since joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global effort to make information from the natural resource sector publicly available. The initiative is anchored in the belief that more complete information can promote accountable management of countries’ natural resources.

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If asked to draw up a list of today’s democracy icons, seldom would the name Aung San Suu Kyi be excluded. Burma’s long-suffering symbol of democratic hope has won more peace prizes than most can remember, was imprisoned under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 years, bears the personal scars of her country’s oppression at the hands of military criminals, and has served as general secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) since the pro-democracy political party was formed in 1988.

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How is democracy promoted around the world? What techniques are successful? Established state democracies are by no means the only inspiration for democracy or for good governance; these ideas can find inspiration in other cultures and societies, such as Myanmar.

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The plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar has attracted the world’s attention for years. In May 2015, the Rohingya refugee crisis grabbed international headlines when tens of thousands of Rohingya fled from Myanmar’s state-sponsored persecution in overcrowded boats heading toward Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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On Saturday, some 40 residents of the Kachin State capital Myitkyina staged a brief protest in front of the Palm Spring Resort. They were demanding a permanent halt to the Chinese-funded Myitsone dam and hydropower project in Kachin State.

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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has taken a leading role in trying to build internal peace, a task she pledged in January would be the “first priority” of her incoming National League for Democracy government.

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When the National League for Democracy took control of Myanmar’s national parliament after its electoral triumph last November, a fundamental rebalancing of Myanmar’s legislative landscape was expected. Most observers thought that the military representatives, who hold an allocation of 25% of all parliamentary seats, would serve as the main opposition to the NLD, which controls about 58% of the Union parliament, as the bicameral legislature is known.

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“The scale and severity of human rights violations in Kachin State is one of the worst in Myanmar,” a lawyer told the International Commission of Jurists during a meeting in Myitkyina last month.

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President Barack Obama last month renewed executive authority over the United States Treasury Department’s sanctions, with a number of significant changes designed to raise bilateral trade and ease the burden of risk for prospective American investors.

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The politics of alliance has never been defined in its own narrative within the ethnic writer and scholar in modern political literature in English. However, it has been well written in Burmese and other ethnic languages in the country. It is a complex issue to be explored by a non-ethnic writer in depth, to understand its rhetoric and substance due to the hidden agenda of political interests within the ethnic political factions in the country. It is far more complex than a simple word like ‘democracy’. As widely used as it is in modern Burmese political literature, at least the subject is not an isolated matter to many journalists and writers in Burma, also known as Myanmar, regardless of their/our insightful knowledge on the issue.

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