The Quest for Democratization in Myanmar

Type Working Paper
Title The Quest for Democratization in Myanmar
Page numbers 1-16
URL Quest for Democratization in Myanmar.​Ganganath Jha.pdf
Myanmar is strategically located between South Asia and Southeast Asia and shares contiguous
land frontiers with five countries, namely India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos. It has a
land area of more than 676,000 sq kms and a coastline stretching over 2,200 kms.Its frontiers
have prominent natural frontiers in the form of mountain ranges in the northwest, north and
east and rivers in the west and south-East. There are eight major ethnic groups in the country
namely; Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Kaya, Mon, Rakhine and Shans. According to 1983 census,
Bamar constituted 69 percent of the population followed by Shan 8.5 percent, Karens 6.2
percent and Rakhine 4.5 percent. Buddhists comprise 89.4 percent of the total population,
Christians 4.9 percent and Muslims 3.9 percent. The country is endowed with rich natural
resources where the soil is fertile and oil and natural gas are in abundance. It has hydrocarbon
reserves of 2.512 trillion cubic meters (TMC) of natural gas and 3.2 billion barrels of crude oil.
The hydro-power potential is put at 37000 megawatts. Besides it has potentials to produce dro-power to fulfill the needs of the countries in the neighborhood. Myanmar is also a part of
golden triangle, where opium is produced for the global market.
However the aim of this paper is to examine recent developments in the politics of Myanmar,
which needs to be understood in its proper perspective. There are observers who find it against
the Chinese interests. There are others who find it pro-western and pro-Indian. To me the
developments in Myanmar are neither pro-western, pro-Indian nor anti-Chinese whatever has
happened since the release of Suu Kyi from her house arrest in 2010, are the steps towards
democratization. The restoration of democracy has been the demands of the people of
Myanmar, which were strongly supported by the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), whose policy of “Constructive Engagement” with Myanmar had been mooted
to detract Myanmar’s total dependence on China. The ASEAN leaders at the same time thought
that greater interaction with ASEAN will tempt Myanmar for democratization in tune with the
rest of the ASEAN countries. Myanmar was offered the membership of ASEAN in 1997 but
nothing was done against the omission and commission of the military. Though General Khin
Nyunt came out with a roadmap for restoring democracy in Myanmar, but he was ousted from
power. General Than Shwe did not like to hear the name of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Many
intellectuals in ASEAN felt frustrated that the policy of constructive engagement could not yield
the desired results. The constitution of Myanmar which was announced in 2008 was opposed by
the activists of the democracy movement. When general elections were announced in
November 2010 for the formation of a popular government, structural changes were not
envisaged, but it was to legitimate the position of the ruling establishment. However when the
elections were held, the changes in the political order started, which is momentous. General
Than Shwe paved the path for the emergence of General Thein Sein, who has a vision and
agenda to transform Myanmar from authoritarian to democratic system. He has displayed
overtures to establish rapprochement with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders. He
has taken steps for reconciliation with the opposition groups and taken steps for reconstruction
and nation building. Unlike General Than Shwe, he is trying to gain the trust of the masses and
end isolation and trust deficit between government and people. President Thein Sein has
already taken steps to introduce changes in the domestic and foreign policy of Myanmar which
is highly appreciated by the ASEAN and the free world. The changes in the politics of Myanmar
suits geostrategic interests of India, which treats Myanmar as a gateway to Asia-Pacific. Any
connectivity through land and sea routes to the ASEAN region cannot avoid Myanmar, whose upport and access is important for the success of Look East policy, Mekong-Ganga cooperation, BIMSTEC and ASEAN.

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