By Arab News
Burma or Myanmar as it is known these days is like another planet for much of the international community. What goes on in there is of little interest to the self-appointed movers and shakers of our world. For all practical purposes, Myanmar fell off the world map. The Western powers, ever eager to intervene in countries in the Middle East, have done little more than pay lip service to the long suffering people of the Southeast Asian nation. Maybe because Myanmar doesn’t have oil — at least not enough to invite Western interest.
Myanmar’s Asian neighbors haven’t fared any better. The regional grouping, ASEAN, has scrupulously avoided any references to “internal matters” of the member state for fear of ruffling the junta. Myanmar’s giant neighbors China and India, enjoying robust economic ties and massive clout with Rangoon, too have failed to persuade the generals to mend their ways. The world looked the other way as Myanmar people have lived through a nightmare over the past many decades, especially the last two that saw the incarceration of Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of her followers.
Today, Suu Kyi is free and her people appear to be on the cusp of a historic change. Myanmar’s rulers have announced amnesty to more than 6,000 prisoners. It’s not clear how many of those would be political prisoners though. Nevertheless, this is a welcome sign and fits in with the pattern of dramatic developments in Rangoon over the past few months. Change seems to have come at last to the impoverished nation sitting on rich natural resources. For which the credit goes to no one but the people of Myanmar. It’s the perseverance and epic sacrifices of Myanmar people and their charismatic leadership. Suu Kyi spent nearly two decades of her life as a prisoner in her home.
The past few months have been a time of intense and fast-paced political change in Myanmar although much of this may have been scarcely noticed by the outside world. Parliament wrapped up on March 30 with the military-led State Peace and Development Council handing over executive powers to the president and legislative powers to new assemblies “elected” last year. In mid-August, things started to change with President Thein Sein reaching out to opposition, government officials, civil society organizations and even dissidents abroad to join hands for a new Myanmar.
Although economic woes facing the country dominated Sein’s Aug. 17 address, he also talked of good governance, fundamental rights, the rule of law, transparency, fighting poverty and creation of a “harmonious” society. The government has also set up a commission to review existing laws and suggest changes if necessary. The amnesty to prisoners and release of Suu Kyi herself last year are clearly part of this reform process.
Doubtless, these are welcome changes. However, Myanmar has a long way to go before it could claim to be a country that represents and reflects the aspirations of its people. Steps like review of colonial laws and allowing greater political freedom are laudable but they do not make up for real empowerment and fair representation of the people. The last free elections were held in 1991 which Suu Kyi had won and was promptly imprisoned for the sin. Myanmar cannot meet the myriad challenges it faces without people’s involvement in the decision-making process. Cosmetic window-dressing will not bring respite to Myanmar; only real change will.