Economic: Myanmar is the second largest country geographically in Asean (Indonesia is first) and has natural resources such as forests, gas and oil. Economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, Canada, and Australia have been instituted, but neighboring countries in search of more energy _ China and Thailand _ have reached economic agreements with the junta, and these largely keep the generals wealthy, as the proceeds go into their pockets and not the country’s. About one-third of the population, therefore, lives in poverty. More than 60 percent of the 2009-10 budget is allocated to state owned enterprises, which are corrupt, inefficient and money-losers.
Political: The country has been run by a military government since 1962 and it is reported that 17 generals basically “run the show.” The original country name of Burma was changed by the ruling junta in 1989, and usage of Burma and Myanmar remains mixed. In 1990 a general election was held and won in a landslide by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta failed to recognize the results.
Another election on November 7 has been widely criticized as window dressing to legitimize the military regime. No foreign observers or media were allowed in the country to witness the election. The NLD did not register for the election and is now defunct. A total of 25 percent of the parliamentary seats are reserved for the military.
The military keeps tight control over the country as ethnic groups, notably the United Wa State Army, the Shan State Army, the Karen National Union, and Union Kachin Independence Organization maintain armed forces, often financed by the production and sale of illegal drugs, notably methamphetamine and heroin (Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of illicit opium), which is transported over the border to Thailand for distribution throughout Asia. Many of the shipments are intercepted in northern Thailand, while some, of course, are not.
Social: Myanmar has many large ethnic groups. A significant number of these groups have not melded into the fabric of Myanmar, and hostilities between the groups and the junta are frequent, bringing Myanmar international condemnation for its suppression of the minority groups. Human trafficking is also another serious issue bringing Myanmar under scrutiny and condemnation.
Western countries and the UN hope that a democratic government would foster reconciliation with the ethnic minorities, but that remains a distant possibility.
In 2011: No change is anticipated following the recent election. The generals continue to disregard international pressures.
Economic: Asean’s smallest member, Brunei Darussalam, has the seventh -ranked economy in the Asean community, with a population of just over 388,000. Oil and gas production generate more than half of the GDP and are more than 90 percent of the country’s exports. The country’s leadership (one family has ruled the country for more than 500 years, the current leader is Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah) recognizes the labor force needs an upgrade and that the economy needs move into more sustainable areas than oil and gas production.
Political: The Sultan is the head of state assisted by five councils.
Social: Nine years of education are mandatory. Islam is the official religion but many faiths are practiced in private. Most of the ethnic Chinese are permanent residents.
In 2011: Upgrading the work force.
Economic: The Cambodian economy is improving although the garment industry, which has experienced recent labor strikes for higher wages, remains the largest employer. In 2011
Political: The constitutional monarchy of Cambodia has endured a tortured political history but the national elections in 2008 went smoothly and Hun Sen is the prime minister and has served in that role since 1985. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, in exile, along with two other Cambodians, was handed a 12-year sentence for a series of incidents relating to Vietnamese incursion into Cambodia.
The European Union Parliament passed a resolution condemning the sentence. If Rainsy’s appeal is not upheld, he would be barred from contesting in the 2013 national elections.
Social: The population of Cambodia is relatively homogeneous, with most identifying themselves as Khmer and most of them Theravada Buddhists. The last of the aging Khmer Rouge leaders have been brought to trial, perhaps putting a cap on that tragic episode of Cambodian history.
In 2011: Oil and gas income should have a dramatic effect sometime in 2011.
Economy: Landlocked Laos has a strong determination to become the energy center for Southeast Asia with plans to construct as many as 12 dams on the Mekong River and use the energy for its own needs as well as to sell the energy (as it is already doing) to Thailand and Vietnam.
The Mekong River Commission has recently issued the following: “The SEA results will support the consultation process for individual mainstream hydropower projects that is required under the 1995 Mekong Agreement before a decision is made whether or not to go ahead and, if so, under what circumstances. This process is just starting for Xayaburi in northern Laos PDR.”.................
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