Will Myanmar's march to democracy trip up?

15 February 2017

A year after Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy were installed as Myanmar’s first popularly elected government in more than 50 years, a conference taking place at The Australian National University (ANU) this Friday and Saturday will examine remaining obstacles to ongoing political reform.

The 2017 Myanmar Update, hosted by the ANU Myanmar Research Centre, brings together more than 40 leading experts from around the world to examine the promises and pitfalls of the country’s incredible and rapid political, economic and social change.

Speakers include Dr Aung Tun Thet, Representative of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of the Myanmar Government and Member of the Peace Commission.

Speaking before the conference co-convenor, Justine Chambers said that despite initial optimism with the country’s new government and reforms, it wasn’t long before cracks appeared.

“The formation of a new government in Myanmar, led by the National League for Democracy, is a crucially important milestone in the country’s political transformation. This profound change is being matched by similarly far-reaching shifts in Myanmar’s economic, social and cultural landscape,” said Ms Chambers. “The country has shifted from almost seemingly never ending military rule and civil war, to freer and more open politics.

“However, it wasn’t long before fault-lines in this transition began to appear -- in the form of lethargic constitutional reform, rising commodity prices, escalating military campaigns and a growing land rights crisis across much of the country. Meanwhile, reports from international organisations have highlighted that the majority of Myanmar’s people continue to struggle with poverty and dire debt, constraining their ability to enjoy the benefits of political and economic reform.”

Myanmar is also besieged by an ongoing battle with ethnic Kachin insurgents, facing international accusations and condemnation for alleged human rights abuses against Muslim minority Rohingya, and recently witnessed the brazen assassination of Muslim law reformer and Aung San Suu Kyi adviser U Ko Ni.

But despite these setbacks and challenges there is still cause for optimism amid Myanmar’s fitful transformation, says conference co-convenor Gerard McCarthy.

“Setbacks and challenges are expected in any political transition. In Myanmar, formal and informal legacies of authoritarian rule – including military control of 25 per cent of parliament and a number of key ministries including the military and Home Affairs — have proven resilient, significantly constraining the ability of the new NLD government to deliver the kind of change expected by everyday people,” said Mr McCarthy.

“Yet, this is only part of the picture. The fact that the majority of presenters for the 2017 Myanmar Update hail from Myanmar institutions is a sign of how far the country has come given that – until recent years — Myanmar scholars had few chances for engagement and exchange abroad. Universities, long suppressed, are becoming sites of debate and critical thought, including about Myanmar’s civil conflicts.

“Clearly things are changing in Myanmar. Identifying what remains resilient, and how obstacles to a more inclusive and democratic Myanmar can be navigated, will prove essential as the NLD enters its second year as the first popularly-elected government in decades.”

The 2017 Myanmar Update takes place at the JG Crawford Building from 9am-5pm 17-18 February.

Register and find more details.





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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team