Successes and setbacks: Looking back on the NLD’s first year in government

Building a working relationship with the Tatmadaw has been one of the NLD government’s most important achievements, but it needs to work harder at managing the economy.

By SITHU AUNG MYINT | FRONTIER

ON APRIL 1, the National League for Democracy government marked its first year in office. Although there were worries in the immediate aftermath of the November 2015 election about whether the NLD would really become the government, it has been running the country for a year. As there is no guarantee that Myanmar will not revert to military rule, senior NLD leader U Win Htein says the fact that the NLD government has survived for a year can be regarded as a great success.

This week I would like to discuss the NLD government’s successes and failures over the past year and the challenges it faces as the transition continues.

The greatest achievement of the NLD government, led by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been its ability to share power with the Tatmadaw in running the country. The 2008 Constitution gives the Tatmadaw 25 percent of the nation’s Hluttaws as well as the power to appoint a vice-president and the ministers of Defence, Home Affairs and Border Affairs, who are generals chosen by the Commander-in-Chief. 

The General Administration Department under the Minister for Home Affairs runs the bureaucracy, and there was apprehension that even though the NLD had won the election, it would be the Tatmadaw that governed the country. It is a success for the NLD that it has been able to develop a working relationship with the Tatmadaw under such circumstances.

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It is widely acknowledged that the NLD’s greatest success has been in diplomacy and is a result of Aung San Suu Kyi’s influence in the international community. She was instrumental in the decisions by United States and the European Union to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar for decades. She has also been able to build good relations with world superpower the United States, economically powerful Japan, and emerging power China.

Another achievement of the NLD government has been an improvement in human rights. Although there has been international criticism of human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan states, there has been a significant overall improvement. Gone are the days when the people lived in constant fear of the authorities.

A major shortcoming of the NLD government has involved its management of the economy. Although sanctions have been withdrawn, the flow of foreign investment has not been as high as anticipated. This has hampered job creation and contributed to an increase in the number of migrant workers. Increases in the prices of basic commodities, inflation and the slow pace of wage rises have made daily life harder for many people.

Cronies and others who profited from corruption and the right connections under previous administrations are still not sure about how to go about doing business under the NLD government. The cumulative effect of these factors has been a slowdown in the economy.

However, Win Htein is confident the introduction of the Myanmar Investment Law following its enactment last October will pave the way for an increase in foreign investment. He predicted an improvement in economic development in 2017-2018, but acknowledged that the situation was not easy.

Aung San Suu Kyi promised before the NLD took office that the peace process would be her government’s first priority. However, she has not been able to move the process much beyond what had been achieved during U Thein Sein’s presidency.

Two of the biggest ethnic armed groups, the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Army, have opposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s insistence that they must sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement before they can participate in the political dialogue being held as part of the process. There was some good news for the government on March 30, when five ethnic armed groups announced their readiness to sign the NCA and bring the number of signatories to 13.

The NLD government has failed to make much progress on Rakhine State, where the situation deteriorated sharply after militants launched deadly attacks on border guard police posts in Maungdaw Township in October.

The NLD government has also failed to make noticeable progress on some of its main election campaign slogans, to fight corruption, ensure adherence to the rule of law and reform the judicial system.

The first year in office of the NLD government has been successful. The government’s future success will depend on its performance, its ability to build a cooperative relationship with the Tatmadaw and the competence of the Hluttaws.

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