Myanmar's Fifty-Year Authoritarian Trap

By Turnell, Sean | Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Myanmar's Fifty-Year Authoritarian Trap


Turnell, Sean, Journal of International Affairs


Myanmar has been under military rule in various guises for nearly fifty years. The most durable and unyielding of the authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia, Myanmar's military rulers have expertly exploited circumstances and methods that prolong their rule, even as they have failed to deliver genuine economic growth and development. Their methods include ruthlessly suppressing dissent, inciting ethnic divisions and fears of external threats and making implicit bargains with neighboring states and domestic elites over the spoils available to a rentier state. Myanmar's emergence in recent years as a significant regional supplier of natural gas has dramatically increased the country's distributable economic rents, thus exacerbating the country's political stasis. This article examines the ways in which Myanmar's military regime has maintained its rule through the exploitation of these methods, but with a particular focus on the impacts of the country's exploitable energy and resource wealth and its implications for Myanmar's economic development and political transition.

**********

In March 1962 a military coup in Myanmar installed a regime that, in various guises, has continued to rule ever since. In April 2011 a nominally civilian government, complete with an executive presidency and a parliament, was installed despite widespread perceptions that the previous year's election was flawed. The new government has yet to do anything to suggest it is more than a facade for ongoing military control.

The longevity of military rule in Myanmar is a function of a number of circumstances, including most notably that the country is ruled by a regime prepared to use lethal force against its opponents. The same regime has been almost as assiduous in rewarding its supporters. It uses its tight control over the economy to grant military and other elites concessions against its own labyrinthine restrictions and rules on economic activity. Myanmar's emergence as a rentier state in recent years through the regional export of natural gas has only increased its ability to pursue both aspects of this dual strategy of repression and patronage, further inhibiting genuine change after fifty long years of authoritarian rule. (1)

REPRESSION

The most obvious way in which Myanmar's military regime has remained in place is its readiness to swiftly and brutally suppress dissent. The coup that installed the military in 1962 was a relatively bloodless affair, but in the intervening years, the regime has been quick to put down challenges to its rule with violence. Such suppression has existed as a routine part of everyday life, manifested in an all-pervasive surveillance apparatus, bans against more than five people assembling without a permit, the harassment and imprisonment of political opponents and numerous other policies and institutions of political domination. (2) As of April 2011, there were over 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar; most of them have been incarcerated and given lengthy sentences under biased legal proceedings and are frequently subjected to torture. (3) Outside of its prisons, the people of Myanmar face limits to their freedom of movement both domestically and internationally, and forced relocation is commonplace. Meanwhile, the flow of information in Myanmar is greatly restricted. The press is subject to tight censorship, the Internet is strictly controlled and the country's perfunctory education system is little more than a vehicle of indoctrination for the military's interpretation of Myanmar's history and its central role in this history. Myanmar's universities were broken up long ago and their faculties geographically dispersed to prevent student concentration and activism. (4) Similarly, state spending on education, at little more than 0.57 percent of GDP in 2000, was the lowest in the world. (5)

Of course, on a number of occasions the suppression of dissent in Myanmar has been revealed in episodes of state-sponsored military violence against more widespread uprisings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Myanmar's Fifty-Year Authoritarian Trap
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.