Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MYANMAR: Challenges Galore but Opposition Failed to Score

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

MYANMAR: Challenges Galore but Opposition Failed to Score

Article excerpt

The main events that characterized Myanmar's political scene in 2005 were the military government's highlighting of its National Convention (NC) as a showcase for political progress and the crackdown on political activists from the Shan ethnic group. The legitimacy of the NC established by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC, the junta from 1988 to 1997) and endorsed by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was still not accepted by the political opposition and the US-led Western governments while the crackdown attracted a fresh round of condemnations by the advocates of human rights, political opposition from within and without the country and Western governments. In fact, the issue of the apparent lack of progress in instituting political reforms towards democratic rule had become the bone of contention in ASLAN's relations with its dialogue partners and even within ASLAN itself and the year saw a significant increase in attempts by the international community to press for changes in the regime's conduct to conform with Western norms of human rights and democracy.

The issues of democratic reforms and the continued detention of opposition icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as allegations of forced labour, ill-treatment of political prisoners, internal displacement, and religious persecution that dogged the regime since it came to power were highlighted time and again by the regime's critics and detractors who unleashed a torrent of complaints, condemnations and warnings throughout the year, culminating in calls for a move to refer Myanmar to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as threat to peace and security in the region.

Meanwhile, on the economic front, the government continued its claim of double-digit GDP (gross domestic product) growth as in the previous few years, despite cost-push inflationary pressures and further deterioration in the free market exchange rate of the local currency (kyat, or K) to the US dollar. The government's claim of a high economic growth rate was disputed by outside observers such as the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Asian Development Bank.

The National Convention, the New Constitution, and the Road Map

According to the military junta, a firm constitution is necessary for a stable political environment in which indigenized rules of "multi-party democracy" can be "formulated". As such, SLORC envisaged a political configuration institutionalizing the military's role in "national politics" as a solution to the problem of dysfunctional "party politics".1

In accordance with the announcement on 30 August 2003 by the (then) prime minister General Khin Nyunt of a seven-point "road map" that outlined a path towards constitutional rule in Myanmar, the NC assigned with the task of drafting the detailed principles of a new state constitution was reconvened on 17 May 2004, after a suspension that lasted eight years. The military government in Yangon claimed that the NC was a crucial initial step in the state's seven-step "political programme" or "road map" that entails reconvening the NC; gradually implementing the deliberative process; drafting a new constitution according to the basic principles and details endorsed by the NC; holding a national referendum to adopt the constitution; holding free and fair elections for a hierarchy (national and regional) of legislative bodies or pyithu huttaws (people's assemblies); convening the national assembly; and finally ushering in a "a modern, developed and democratic nation" governed by leaders elected in accordance with the new constitution.2

The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that won some 80 per cent of the seats in the May 1990 general elections, stayed out of the NC, disagreeing with its aims and procedures. So did the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), an ethnic party that won the second largest number of seats in the 1990 elections, and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a group constituting elected ethnic representatives whose parties were deregistered. …

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