Myanmar must avoid ideas of Thailand-style reforms

The Nation/Asia News Network

The military should loosen its grip and allow society to build on the foundations for democracy laid over the past four years. Although the two neighbors enjoy a close relationship and their political systems are similar in being dominated by the military, Myanmar need no longer look for guidance from Thailand when it comes to reform toward democracy. Leaders in Naypyidaw should now realize that their prospects for democracy are brighter than those of Thailand. Of course, many things need to be done before Myanmar can legitimately call itself an ��open�� and democratic society, but the path has been set. The leaders, military and people of Myanmar should be applauded for taking a crucial step in 2011 when they began their reform journey under a seven-step road map. The first election in two decades brought a less-than-perfect result, but it saw the end of junta rule as a semi-civilian government led by former four-star general Thein Sein took power. He might represent continuity with Myanmar’s dark decades under military rule, but Thein Sein has done much over the past four years to push the reform agenda. He has relaxed tight control over opposition politicians, activists and the mass media. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from almost 15 years under house arrest and now sits in parliament as an elected MP, able to voice her concerns about the country’s development. Reforms have also opened up the economy to the outside world, allowing much-needed foreign trade and investment to flow into what many are calling the globe’s new economic frontier. Few of Myanmar’s citizens will get rich overnight, but they can now be fairly confident of brighter prospects offered by the growing economy.

However, a halt in the momentum of reform since late last year shows that leaders are reluctant to break new ground in the name of democratic freedoms. This year the government and parliament have made few, if any, achievements in this direction.

The military-drafted constitution is littered with booby traps for democratic development. An article that bars persons married to foreigners from running for president was almost certainly aimed at Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, only to see the result scrapped by the junta. The charter also gives too much power to the military, guaranteeing it 25 percent of the seats in parliament �X which represents a veto over any move to amend the constitution. And the charter offers ethnic groups no means to play a significant role in running the country, either at the national level or in their ethnic homelands.