People of Burma are optimistic about the future. Why?

According to one published poll 62 percent of the people of Burma are generally positive about the direction the country is heading.  How much would you share this optimism? Or wouldn’t you, and why? Read few comments.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Aung San Suu Kyi. Credit: Andrej Matisak

Sean TurnellAssociate Professor, Department of Economics, Macquarie University

This survey has come under significant criticism, and personally I would not give it much credence.

That said, clearly Burma is a better place today than it was five years ago.

Nevertheless, things have gone somewhat awry over the last year or so. Reforms have slowed, even stalled, and the military has been prominent again via the media and other avenues, essentially reminding people that they are here to stay, and that there are limits to political reform. The most obvious manifestation of all of this is the denial of constitutional change that would make the elections due in late 2015 genuinely democratic (the most obvious example of this, in turn, is the denial of the right of Aung San Suu Kyi to be a presidential candidate).

I am just back from Burma, and I was struck by two things on this most recent trip: 1) Growing fears expressed about the military, and constant assertions by ordinary people that the army and their cohorts ‘were still in charge’. 2) An ongoing belief that somehow Suu Kyi would be the country’s saviour.

I left more worried than I have been for some time.

Trevor WilsonVisiting Fellow, Department of Political & Social Change, Australian National University

Burmese are not very accustomed to public opinion surveys (whereas we in the West are probably too accustomed to them!). In my view, Burmese are therefore probably less likely to be critical of their government and their leaders than the public in most other countries. On the whole, they are inclined to be more trusting of the authorities than might be expected.  (They also might not say what their real attitudes are!)

However, generally the results of the Asia Foundation survey are more or less what I would have expected: namely, that theBurmese people are relatively optimistic about the prospects for the reform process in Myanmar. In the regions, where the people are better informed, and/or more cynical about what happens in the capital, they will be slightly less optimistic, and a little more questioning.

The apparent lack of knowledge about Myanmar’s political processes, could be explained by people in the ethnic areas/regions having much less information available and accessible about such matters. (In the regions, more people might not see newspapers or television or listen to radio broadcasts, for example.)

I am hopeful about Myanmar’s prospects for reform, rather than “optimistic”. I think the reforms still have a long way to go, and some big problems have yet to be dealt with, such as land reform and reducing the role of the military in the nation.  But on the whole (not entirely, of course) the Myanmar Government has so far pursued their reform process through largely peaceful means, through relatively inclusive and consultative processes, and tried to listen to the expert views of people inside and outside the country.

The most difficult problem of all for Myanmar is the issue of the Rohingya, which is primarily a matter for Myanmar itself, not for international “experts” (unless the international community wants to resettle all the Rohingya!!). Myanmar needs to find a new national consensus on the treatment of the Rohingya, which respects their basic rights and offers them a reasonable future.

Nicholas FarrellyResearch Fellow, School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, and Director, ANU-IU Pan Asia Institute, Australian National University

Certainly, the people of Myanmar deserve a chance to be more optimistic. Turbulence continues and the future will bring more ups-and-downs. Yet Myanmar is arguably a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic place today than it has ever been. That merits an upbeat tone.

For more of my recent thoughts on the topic see.


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