Burma Still Isn’t Free


Min Zin worries that the country will grow increasingly unstable:

Under the current Burmese system, the people do not directly elect the president: parliament does, in a complicated procedure that gives disproportionate power to the military. Even though the current ruling party is unlikely to win both houses of parliament in the 2015 elections, the military members of parliament can still nominate its leader as their candidate for the presidency. So it’s entirely possible that army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who reaches retirement age next year, will enter politics and become the military’s nominee for the presidency.

And that, obviously, is a problem. The military has dominated politics in our country for the past half-century. As long as the military continues to control the presidency rather than handing power over to a civilian leader like Aung San Suu Kyi, the legitimacy and stability of the political transition will be incomplete.

Jay Ulfelder, while a bit more sanguine about Burma’s liberalization, zeroes in on the same problem:

[W]hat’s emerged so far is more like the arrangements that hold in monarchies like Morocco or Jordan. There, loyal opposition parties are allowed to contest seats in the legislature, and a certain amount of free discourse and even protest is tolerated, but formal and informal rules ensure that incumbent insiders retain control over the political agenda and veto power over all major decisions.

For that to change in Burma, the country’s constitution would have to change. When military elites rewrote that document a few years ago, however, they cleverly ensured that constitutional reform couldn’t happen without their approval. So far, we have seen no signs that they plan to relinquish that arrangement any time soon. Until we do, I think it’s premature to speak of a transition to democracy in Burma. Democratization, yes, but not enough yet to say that the country is between political orders. What we have now, I think, is a partially liberalized authoritarian regime that’s still led by a military elite with uncertain intentions.

(Photo: Burma police provide security during census taking in the village of Theechaung on the outskirts of Sittwe in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine on April 1, 2014. Tens of thousands of census-takers fanned out across Myanmar on March 30 to gather data for a rare snapshot of the former junta-ruled nation that is already stoking sectarian tensions. By Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images. More Dish on the census here. )