ISSN 2330-717X

Myanmar Should Learn And Unlearn From Democracies In Asia – OpEd


Myanmar gained independence from British rule in 1948 and adopted the democratic form of government. However, due to inept leadership and poor governance, it became possible for the army to take over the government and assume power in 1962 following a military coup.

After around 50 years of what is widely perceived as oppressive rule by military government, a semi civilian government took over in 2011 after a general election , which took a few positive steps towards economic reforms and provided some measure of political freedom to the people.

With the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, the human rights record improved to some extent. With the recent elections and government formation by the Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the people of Myanmar are now brimming with hopes and aspirations.

Challenges ahead

While it is gratifying to see Myanmar having a democratically elected government, one has to keep the fingers crossed as to how Myanmar will shape in the coming years. There are many challenges facing Myanmar that have to be overcome, if the country and it’s socio economic conditions were to gain by utilizing the opportunities and forging ahead.

Obviously, the main requirements to boost the economy and implement development projects that are urgently needed to give relief to the people, most of whom are living in stressful economic and social conditions, is enlightened leadership for the government, stable administration and peaceful conditions. Creation of appropriate climate for growth is the primary and vital need.

The ground reality is that for most of it’s independent years after 1948, Myanmar has been engrossed in widespread ethnic strife, leading to sort of civil war in some areas. .Sadly, thousands of people have died in violence amongst ethnic groups, after the British left in 1948.

The continued presence of a number of outfits such as pro-Christian Kachin Independence Army, Rohingya Muslims, Shan, Lahu and Karen minority groups, ethnic Chinese rebels that have all been involved in several conflicts and violence in the past, should be a matter of high concern to a government that would be keen to promote economic and industrial growth in progressive climate.

The anxiety is that Myanmar, which has gained political freedom after making huge sacrifice and struggle by hundreds of freedom fighters during the last 70 years, should not lose it’s way in a situation where the violent outfits, which have been active in the past , would assert their presence and conduct themselves with narrow chauvinistic outlook and extreme postures under the leadership of self centred persons and groups.

It is also a matter of concern that terrorists including ISI should not find Myanmar , which remains a poor country , to be a fertile ground to recruit the poor innocent youth to their fold and carry out their terrorist activities.

The leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi and the governing capability of her party are still untested and it may be an inexperienced team, particularly considering the challenges ahead of Myanmar. The new elected government is bound to face tremendous pressure from the vested interests, arm merchants , business houses and even religious bodies, not only within the country but also from outside.

Need to learn and unlearn

In this scenario, the Myanmar government should have a close look at the democracies in the neighbouring countries namely India, Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Laos and nearby countries such as Pakistan and Nepal.

While all these countries except China have democratic governments elected by the people in general elections, the fact is that happiness index of the people in these countries are not high. Atleast , some section of the people in these countries think that they are paying too big a price for democratic form of governance , where unrestricted freedom often have lead to conflicts and violence and counter productive political developments.

Most of the neighbouring and nearby countries which boast of democratic governance , suffer from unacceptably high level of corruption in the government machinery, amongst the politicians and those elected by the people . In view of such prevalence of widespread corruption, the development programmes are not being implemented efficiently and the benefits intended for the deprived section of the society do not reach them fully. Substantial share of government expenditure are siphoned away by corrupt elements inside and outside the government.

Further, attracted by the power of governance and in the name of freedom, all sorts of people have entered politics in these countries without any check and control and it is not uncommon to see even criminals and those accused for smuggling and corrupt practices get themselves elected by dubious means and by bribing voters and become ministers to rule the country.

Singapore model of governance may be appropriate

Singapore is a case study, where the Singapore government claims that it is democratically elected , though Singapore is generally perceived, by people living in Singapore and outside, to be having a limited or controlled democracy, where the government does not allow the type of freedom that people in countries like India get.

In the Singapore form of governance, the city state of Singapore has made enormous progress in economic, technology and financial front . Peace prevails in the country. At the same time, Singapore government has not stopped it’s obnoxious practice of whipping the wrong doers mercilessly, which many think could be gross violation of human rights.

In such circumstances, Aung San Suu Kyi who has become sort of mother figure now in Myanmar and who enjoys enormous confidence of the people, should carefully examine whether it would be appropriate for Myanmar to copy the pattern of democracy that is practiced in countries like India or should it opt for sort of controlled democracy as prevalent in Singapore so that the forces of disruption will not have a free run.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her party which is now governing Myanmar has to do some hard thinking about the ways and means of ensuring steady growth of Myanmar and at the same time keeping the disruptive elements under check, which may call for limiting the freedom of people to the extent necessary.

The new government in Myanmar has not only to learn but also unlearn from the practice of democracy in the neighbouring and nearby counties.

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N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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