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Favourites of 2017: International Crisis Group on Myanmar
Favourites of 2017: International Crisis Group on Myanmar
Briefing 118 / Asia

Myanmar’s Post-Election Landscape

As Myanmar enters a new political phase, the international community should seize the opportunity to encourage greater openness and reform.

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I. Overview

The November 2010 elections in Myanmar were not free and fair and the country has not escaped authoritarian rule. Predictably, in such a tightly controlled poll, the regime’s own Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won a landslide victory leaving the military elite still in control. Together with the quarter of legislative seats reserved for soldiers, this means there will be little political space for opposition members in parliament. The new government that has been formed, and which will assume power in the coming weeks, also reflects the continued dominance of the old order with the president and one of the two vice presidents drawn from its ranks and a number of cabinet ministers recycled.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to conclude that nothing has changed. The top two leaders of the former military regime have stepped aside, and a new generation has taken over. A new constitution has come into force, which fundamentally reshapes the political landscape, albeit in a way that ensures the continued influence of the military. A number of technocrats have been brought into the cabinet, and at the local level ethnic groups now have at least some say in the governance of their affairs.

These changes are unlikely to translate into dramatic reforms in the short term, but they provide a new governance context, improving the prospects for incremental reform. This moment of relative change in a situation that has been deadlocked for twenty years provides a chance for the international community to encourage the government to move in the direction of greater openness and reform. But this opportunity can only be seized if the West changes its failed policies of sanctions and isolation. These policies are counterproductive: they have a negative impact on the population and on the prospects for dialogue and reconciliation – and by reinforcing the siege mentality of Myanmar’s leadership, they undermine the chances that the new generation of leaders will break with the isolationist and authoritarian direction of the previous regime.

Improved policies must start with the recognition that sanctions have had counterproductive effects and caused ordinary people to suffer, and have impeded the country’s development. To redress this, restrictions on development assistance should be immediately lifted and levels of aid increased. Restrictions on technical assistance from international financial institutions should also be removed. These bodies should be encouraged to work on pressing concerns such as poverty alleviation, social and economic policy reform, education, and capacity building. Restrictions that hold back the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN agencies should be lifted. Broad-based economic sanctions such as those imposed by the U.S. on imports and the EU’s denial of trade privileges should also go.

A new approach urgently needs to be adopted, one that provides much greater support for Myanmar’s people and for the socio-economic reforms that are essential for improving their lives, while convincing the leadership that a renormalisation of relations with the West is possible if they embark on a process of significant political reform. In its reporting over recent years, Crisis Group has set out some of the elements of such an approach: structured regional and international engagement; a normalisation of aid relations; opportunities to promote reform and greater openness at a key moment of political transition; and giving greater priority to peaceful resolution of the ethnic issue.

Jakarta/Brussels, 7 March 2011

Impact Note / Asia

Favourites of 2017: International Crisis Group on Myanmar

Originally published in Lowy Institute

Looking back at 2017, Australia's Lowy Institute and contributors to its Lowy Interpreter website offer a selection of their favourite articles, books, films and TV programs of the year. This post, written by independent researcher Elliot Brennan, is part of the Favourites of 2017 debate thread and praises the role of Crisis Group's research in and analytical reports about Myanmar.

In a year of such mud and murk in Myanmar, far too little commentary has been well informed, balanced or timely.

Myanmar’s ballooning Facebook effect, which in 2015 emboldened many to vote in Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide election victory, had a more sinister influence in the proliferation of hate speech in 2017. This ultimately led to conditions for what appears to have become the most deadly few months in modern Myanmar’s history.

There were few sources of consistently accurate and balanced information in the immensely emotional environment in which Myanmar exists for among news media, rights activists and too many casual analysts. That is an indictment on the state of commentary and the susceptibility to hyperbolic and emotive social media. Moreover, it has been wholly destructive in finding the solutions that such thorny problems need.

International Crisis Group has consistently cut through this echo chamber. Their nuanced and balanced reports on Myanmar have been a bedrock in a sea of false, misleading or downright dangerous reporting and advocacy from all sides. To their credit, the timely papers by ICG on the situation in Rakhine state, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, as well as Myanmar’s politics more generally, have proved distressingly prophetic. The reports are essential reading for anyone wanting to comment on Myanmar’s politics or the devastating events that have unfolded this year.

In 2018, we will no doubt need to find more oracles of balance and considered wisdom, lest Facebook and other more intentionally malign actors gobble up more of the hard-fought successes in the region and beyond.