Home >> Daily News >> ASEAN ANALYSIS
Asean Affairs 20 October 2011
Is Myanmar for real?
By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs 20 October 2011
At a recent national day celebration at an embassy here in Bangkok, the defense attaché of an Asia-Pacific country approached me and asked “Do you think that the recent changes in Myanmar were real or merely intended to improve Myanmar’s bid to become chair of Asean in 2014?”
I am sure that many Myanmar observers and “experts” will be called upon to address that question in coming months.
After some thought, I told him that I felt Myanmar would do just enough to make itself “more acceptable” to the global community but those efforts would fall far short of the civil liberties enjoyed in other Asean countries such as next-door Thailand. Basically the moves are window-dressing to get the Asean chair.
The military remains in firm control and when one gets off a plane in Yangon, there are just too many soldiers walking around with rifles slung over their soldiers. If Myanmar really wants to change its image, perhaps that’s the first place to start.
Two recent events also substantiate my position.
UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said this week in his report to the General Assembly that, "Despite these positive developments (the release of 6,300 political prisoners), many ongoing and serious human rights issues remain to be addressed."
The Myanmar government’s suspension of the Myitsone dam project is another bold step taken by the new government. The dam is being financed by China and most of the power generated will be returning to China, with Myanmar receiving financial benefit but little electricity in a country where only 20 percent of the population receives regular access to electricity.
The suspension came one week after Myanmar’s minister of electric power said work on the dam would continue.
The dam was widely opposed because of the estimated displacement of 15,000 people and ecological damage to the Irrawaddy River. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown her weight behind the Save Irrawaddy campaign, which appears to be gathering momentum.
However, suspension of the project does not mean the project will be abandoned.
A real change would also result in elections that allow more than one party to dominate the results.
How long will it take for that to happen in Myanmar?