July 05th, 2012 | Global Times Transition comes before democracy in Myanmar
Myanmar’s rapid political changes last year surprised the world, and have received widespread positive comments. The government and the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi are now in a tentative dialogue as reforms continue. Can Suu Kyi fulfill people’s hopes? What new attitude will Myanmar take to China? Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui talked to Tin Maung Thann (Thann), president of Myanmar Egress, a government think tank, on these issues.
GT: Many Myanmese see Suu Kyi as the hope of the country. Can Suu Kyi meet people’s expectations?
Thann: Sui Kyi’s role is clear. She is a democratic icon. If you follow her statements, they are very much politically correct from a moral perspective. But implementing this will be the biggest challenge for her now.
She is 67 years old, and without a strong will, she couldn’t be as active as she is. But we know she is a very strong lady.
But her party, the NLD, never had the chance to institutionalize party building. For the last 20 years, they have had to struggle underground. They haven’t had any time to build a base.
If she wants to deliver all the things she promises the people, she needs a strong base, but this isn’t the case at present.
Whether she will fulfill her promises depends on how she will deliver. Of course she can do a lot of things we cannot do, but she needs people on the ground. It will be a very difficult time for her.
GT: How do you view the relations between Suu Kyi and the government?
Thann: It’s a political compromise for both sides. Suu Kyi has changed her party’s position and her own. It is a negotiated agreement. The only thing promised is that neither Suu Kyi nor the government will backstab each other. But if we cannot develop this into real political confidence, that would be a big challenge. Both sides behave, but generally speaking, there is no systematic forum to talk.
GT: Some see the recent conflicts in the state of Rakhaing as a backward step on Myanmar’s path to democracy. How do you view this?
Thann: No, this has nothing to do with democratic reform. In Asian societies, this kind of social problem can happen at any time with any small spark. Like this time, the tensions are there because of population pressure.
We have to tackle the identity of the minority groups, they are part of our nation, and we should provide them with the fundamental freedom of human rights.
Citizenship is a big question, and we have to settle this one through the political process.
The previous government did not offer that kind of process, they did not have political dialogue with the society, but now it’s possible. There’s a long way to go, but we need to cool down and restart the dialogue.
GT: How should Myanmar continue to promote democratic reform?
Thann: We have paid the price for reform with what we have suffered in the last 20 years.
Comparing to the Arab Spring, the situation in Myanmar is totally different because all reforms here are personal driven, and now at least the peace is happening. Because of that, we can institutionalize the dialogue process, it is happening.
The Western democratic model is not a suitable one. I often say transition is more important than democratization. Transition means institutional change, and we need that along with democratization. They need to go hand in hand. Democratization is a long challenge, but the transition comes first.
GT: Myanmar changed rapidly last year. How do people feel about it?
Thann: We have been encouraging these changes for the last 20 years, so we weren’t surprised about the change, but we were surprised by the speed.
What I can tell you is that all players in this game like the change, reformers, the government, the legislators, the NLD and other parties. Maybe we don’t know how to do it perfectly, but everybody likes the change.
This is now the time to open up, and the Western countries are trying to come in from all directions. Because of the exposure, what we can see is that we want to know things we don’t know before. It’s a nice thing.
GT: How will the change affect Myanmar’s relations with other countries, especially with China?
Thann: The Sino-Myanmese relationship has always been strong since our independence. Myanmar is an important part of Chinese foreign policy. If you look back the history, no foreign government was as important as China to Myanmar.
But at the same time, Chinese businesses will have to face more competition with more foreign enterprises coming to Myanmar. Previously, Chinese companies didn’t worry about competition, joint funding and other such market practices.
But now situations change. We will see the changing face of Chinese business in Myanmar. The losers will be the lower-grade Chinese businesses, and they will have to find new areas to move into.
Some Chinese are worrying about the anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar. Do we have any anti-China sentiment in this country? No. On the ground, we live together, the harmony is there.
By Global Times