The Big Picture – The road ahead for Myanmar
After decades of military rule, Myanmar is witnessing a transformation into democracy. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National league for democracy has won a landslide victory in the country’s recently held general elections. This also means a huge transition of power. However, Myanmar has a disciplined democracy, in which 25% of all assembly seats are reserved for serving army officers, who also have a veto over constitutional change.
The road ahead for Aung sun suu kyi has many challenges. Myanmar is amongst Asia’s poorest countries, where government schemes reach less than 3% of the population. There are also many armed ethnic groups in the country, and despite a ceasefire accord, major guerrilla groups haven’t yet signed on. Religious tensions are also common in the country. The increasingly vocal Buddhist groups adopt majoritarian and often brutal methods with religious minorities, including the Rohingya Muslims. In the recently held election, several Rohingya who were eligible to vote in the last elections were deprived of their vote, and not allowed to stand. Myanmar faces the challenges of development too. Owing to the growth of construction, mining and manufacturing industries in the past few years, Myanmar has the third-highest rate of deforestation in the world. These are all challenges the new government will have to tackle quickly.
Another problem is that the three main ministries are under the control of army. Although the NDL party has won the majority of seats, these three large and powerful ministries — interior, defense and border security — will remain under the military. The generals, who came to power in 1962 after overthrowing a civilian government, made sure when they wrote a new Constitution in 2008 to maintain a grip on these three levers.
Myanmar has high strategic value due to its vital location linking the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Japan, the United States and other nations with interests in this region must strengthen ties with Myanmar to keep a check on China, whose unilateral maritime advances are heightening tensions in this area. Despite the intricate process, India has much to learn from the Myanmar experience of dealing with insurgents. India must seize this opportunity to launch a new partnership with a much-neglected neighbor. Myanmar is also its only link and gateway to the East.