An Independent Survey of Events in Myanmar
Myanmar yesterday released 155 Chinese nationals, who were last week jailed for illegal logging in a mass amnesty that also freed several political prisoners. Authorities ordered the release of 6,966 detainees, including 210 foreigners, the Ministry of Information said on its website. The move hoped to promote “goodwill and is aimed at keeping a friendly relationship between countries,” it said.
All of the 155 Chinese nationals given prison sentences for illegal logging in northern Myanmar near the China border have been freed, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement. “Myanmar informed China this morning that they will transfer the above-mentioned persons tomorrow,” the statement said, adding that there had been “intense communication” between the two nations over the loggers.
Among what he described as top priorities in the final stages of his government, Thein Sein gave the strongest indication so far of confidence that a nationwide ceasefire agreement could be finalized with ethnic armed groups before the Nov. 8 poll. He also outlined plans to deepen Myanmar's diplomatic ties with neighboring countries and step up economic development focusing on the manufacturing sector - particularly small and medium enterprises - alongside a new push to move the country away from raw materials exports toward value-added production.
"I don't agree that our democratic reforms have stalled or are back-sliding," he said at the presidential palace in the capital, Naypyitaw. On the role of the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar's armed forces, Thein Sein predicted a natural reduction of the military's role in parliament and politics as peace is restored.
“While I welcome the small improvements that have taken place in some areas in Rakhine State, much remains to be done. Access to healthcare and education remains insufficient for many people, in particular, in northern Rakhine State. I remain convinced that the only way to move towards a lasting solution to this dire situation is for there to be a clear, transparent and fair path to citizenship for all those who are eligible."
- Read full statement to the press at the conclusion of his visit.
- UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie visits Myanmar - The Irrawaddy
- Inside Sittwe, the point of no return for Myanmar's displaced Rohingya: Paul Gregoire
Of course not everybody is happy. Criticism of the corrupting influence of globalised fast food has followed KFC’s Myanmar thrust. But these moans of displeasure can’t compete with the cheerful reaction of local fried-chicken lovers. Long queues at the central Yangon outlet testify to the attraction of Colonel Sanders’ secret herbs and spices. As the cash registers hum with activity, those who can afford a few dollars for a small meal are following a well-worn path to calorific overload and so much more.
KFC is a signpost on the road to economic transformation and global enmeshment. It is also a signal of something profound for Myanmar society – KFC’s arrival in wet-season Yangon is merely a symptom, a well-managed commercial response to a much bigger trend.
From icon to politician: Aung San Suu Kyi’s choice
Roman David and Ian Holliday: Lowy Interpreter – 23 July 2015
The writers argue that “Suu Kyi needs to make a choice: whether to seek power by working with the diverse constituencies needed to stitch together a winning coalition in the coming election, or to promote tolerance by holding firm to the core values with which she has long been associated.”
They note in particular:
- A representative survey we conducted in the final two months of 2014 in Myanmar's two main regions (Yangon and Mandalay) and three of its ethnic states (Kachin, Kayin and Shan) confirmed that her domestic support remains solid.
- She is trusted by almost two-thirds of respondents, building clear majorities among men and women, urban and rural dwellers, and the well and poorly educated.
- Across ethnic groups and in distinct parts of the country there is also trust for Suu Kyi. Moreover, the National League for Democracy (NLD; which remains her political vehicle) was selected by 52% of prospective voters, leaving far behind the governing (and military-backed) Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) with 19%, as well as ethnic parties grouped together with 23%.
- The now notorious Article 59f of the military-authored 2008 constitution denies presidential or vice-presidential office to citizens with close family members who 'owe allegiance to a foreign power'. While in the Western world this provision is viewed as straightforwardly perverse, the situation inside Myanmar is more complicated. Although 39% dislike the clause, 25% wish to keep it and 36% are undecided.
- 78% said they would not want to have a Rohingya neighbour and 12% did not know.
- 63% supported the controversial interfaith restriction law and 21% did not know. [Note: In late 2014 when the survey was made the only interfaith restriction law on the statute book was The Buddhist Womens' Special Marriage and Succession Act 32/1954. The writers may refer to the then planned laws on marriage and conversion which have yet to be finally enacted.]
- She is content to cede ground to radical Buddhist monks, possibly cognizant of the fact that with 72% trust among fellow citizens, they outrank her in public support.
“The core problem she faces is that her popularity derives from her long-standing identification with democratic reform, rather than from her (assumed) support for ethnic and religious tolerance. But with leading Buddhist monks mobilising behind an agenda of narrow religious and nationalist identity, it could be that she will be forced to take a clear stand on this divisive matter.
“With Myanmar's 8 November election looming, Suu Kyi's calculus seems unlikely to change. Yet as political positions firm up, spreading intolerance is fast becoming the most urgent social issue. The role of outsiders in picking up the human rights mantle largely shrugged off by Aung San Suu Kyi is likely to take on growing significance as Myanmar edges closer to its election.”
Derek Tonkin writes: This article merits close and careful reading. It is among the most perceptive I have read in recent months, and the results of the survey conducted in late 2014 lend weight to its conclusions. It may be too much to expect that Suu Kyi could revert to the role of democracy icon, but her prospects for the presidency look slim in the shorter term even if the NLD win a majority of elected seats and I doubt that she would be attracted by the necessary constraints inherent in the role of Lower House Speaker, which is physically very demanding.
- Aung San Suu Kyi and Political Realities in Myanmar: Derek Tonkin - Network Myanmar
- Election will be neither historic nor consequential: Maung Zarni - Democratic Voice of Burma
- Myanmar Elections: A Turning Point for Reform: Trevor Wilson - AIIA