Whatever the monumental adversities still facing this country, it’s important to keep in mind how far things have come.
AS THE National League for Democracy’s first anniversary in office passed in late March, it would have been difficult for any Myanmar watcher to have missed the glut of news articles that were highly critical of the administration’s achievements over the past year.
Even in her remarks to commemorate the anniversary, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged disappointment over the slow pace of reforms, but defended developments by saying that “one year is not a long period”.
Here at Frontier we have not been averse to calling out the government for what we believe to be their shortcomings, nor will we be in the future.
But it’s the start of a new year here in Myanmar, and we’re feeling in a festive mood, so we decided to take this opportunity to step back for a moment and reflect on some of the positive developments this country has seen in recent years – because, despite the often justified criticisms, there certainly have been some.
First, let’s turn the clock back six years to when U Thein Sein was installed as the country’s eighth president, taking the reins from military strongman Senior General Than Shwe who, it was reported, was “officially dissolving” the military junta.
Except no one believed a word of it and most observers expected at least another decade, or more, of Tatmadaw rule. But the military was (to some extent) genuine about its intent to reform. In the years since, positive developments include a freer – but far from completely free – press, an economy that is becoming increasingly attractive to foreign investors and a democratically elected leader at its helm, in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Even taking things back to that heady November night in 2015 when the country celebrated the NLD’s resounding victory, things are looking better than they might otherwise have been. In the days, and weeks, that followed the general election, there were genuine concerns that the result would not be accepted and that Myanmar would return to military rule.
But the NLD remains in power, and has largely retained its popularity, particularly in Bamar-majority areas. The party has until the 2020 election, about three and a half years, to implement the limited reforms it has already begun.
There has been some progress regarding the peace process too. Certainly the intensified recent fighting in the north of the country, and the horrendous conditions under which many internally displaced persons continue to live, make it difficult to see things that way. But the current process initiated under the Thein Sein government is, for all its faults, the closest this country has come to a credible plan for peace in many decades.
There is huge economic potential too. The business community has responded positively to recent initiatives by the government to attract increased foreign investment, and further economic reforms are expected in the coming months. Once again, there is a huge amount more that needs to be done. Yet there remains a genuine hope that at some point in the future Myanmar will have an economy that can rival its neighbours, and with that create job opportunities for a population that has been starved of such prospects for generations.
Dear readers, don’t think that we’ve gone soft over here at Frontier, or that we are intending to gloss over the myriad issues and challenges this country faces. But whatever the monumental adversities still facing this country, it’s important to keep in mind how far things have come.
This editorial originally appeared in the April 20 edition of Frontier.