April Fools’ Day in Burma


Tomorrow, parliamentary by-elections will be held in Burma, with participation of the National League for Democracy, the party that in 1990 won general elections with a clear majority. The regime refused to acknowledge the results back then, repressed the opposition and continued their reign which, despite sanctions imposed by most ‘liberal states’, managed to do just fine by inviting ‘non-liberal’ states to invest in the country’s energy and resource extraction industries.

Several Indian and South Korean corporations (some of them partially state-owned) also invested heavily in the energy sector, and thereby helped sustain a regime that advanced developments in resource extraction, such as the Yadana and Shwe gas projects, with little consideration for their citizens’ rights to life and freedom.

What does this make South Korea and India? And what of the on-going investment of Western private businesses and state enterprises in other ‘non-liberal’ states? How easy is it to draw the line between a liberal and a non-liberal state? And who decides when a non-liberal state ‘advances’ to ‘liberal state’-status?

If we go by the commercial liberalism argument, engaging non-liberal states in commerce and stimulating economic interdependence should lay the foundation for a peaceful future. Burma certainly appears ready for the opportunity.

But peace for whom? Are we just talking about peaceful co-existence of states? “Democracies don’t go to war with each other”! Where’s the point when internally these democracies are at war with their own citizens?

It will be interesting to follow developments in Burma (or Myanmar?). Aung San Suu Kyi herself seems not overtly optimistic, suggesting that the elections will neither be free nor fair. Is the regime just playing a joke?


3 comments on “April Fools’ Day in Burma

  1. mir2012blog says:

    It’s going to be a very interesting election, no doubt. While no one imagines it will be perfect (some parts of the country have already seen voting postponed because of ongoing fighting) it seems likely that the NLD, despite ASSK’s comments about it not being a ‘free and fair’ poll, will pick up a good number of seats. If they do, she will be under pressure to support the lifting of sanctions and thus – so the theory goes – speed the reintegration of the Burmese economy into the rest of the world. The most interesting question for me, is what’s behind the Burmese decision to press for reform now? Presumably a desire to reduce their enormous dependence on a single foreign power (China) and to broader their economic and political ties. But it’s not clear how widely shared this view is inside the government. Is ‘reform’ something that could easily collapse if Thein Sein disappears from the scene? And finally, for someone interested in regionalism in Southeast Asia like me, what does Burmese re-emergence mean for the balance between ‘old’ and ‘new’ members in ASEAN?

  2. henning says:

    I can see the point in trying to counter Chinese influence, presumably even supported by the Chinese themselves for fear of stalled reforms and instability impacting on their economic interests in the region.

    Moreover, Burma’s and China’s historical trajectories in the late 80s found both countries in good company, which was also reflected in the West’s perception of both regimes. I could imagine the Burmese generals have been viewing China’s rising profile on the global stage with some suspicion, fearing they would be left with few friends – and their relationship with China has been strained for some time, creating more tensions at home.

    Also, I wonder how a regionally more influential Burma will play its geostrategic and economic weight vis-à-vis the two regional powers India and China, who for some time have been “wooing the generals” (Egreteau, 2003). One could likely see Burma capitalise on this position within the ASEAN.

  3. frassminggi says:

    Very interesting perspective Pak. I think the regime is not playing a joke. We all know that civil society has long existed in Burma, usually manifested through religious activity to back up Buddhist. But, military governance has impeded civil society to flourish since 1962. So, I think military junta is giving a hard time to the civil society movement. And this is the unique characteristics of so-called “Burma Democracy” the tension between them is sharp but the military is so strong while the civil society is fragmented from political parties to the trade unions. I also recognize that political and ethnic conflict is still strong and this makes Burma torn apart.

    Regarding regionalism in Southeast Asia, I think Burmese re-emergence for the balance between “old” and “new” members in ASEAN creating the same playing field with others. The sense of caring and sharing will be stronger because Burma is yet democratic but agree to ratify ASEAN Charter in 2007. Burma is accepting the general principle of democracy on ASEAN charter. It also matures balance of responsibility between ASEAN countries because they respect for the sovereignty, non-interference but also shared commitment and collective responsibility in regional peace. The old members of ASEAN are little bit uneasy with the prospect of the major power outside SE to become a driving force of extended ASEAN circle. I believe ASEAN is the core and always want to steer their control. Last but not least, it is also pressure for old member to compete to become as so-called “regional hegemony” in ASEAN. The new member will always try to restrain old member regional ambition and make sure that they all become a benevolent regional hegemony. While old member doesn’t want to make ASEAN getting absorb to any higher structure of global governance.

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