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Opinion
COMMENTARY

Turning Burma into Next Asian Tiger No Simple Task


By KYAW ZWA MOE Tuesday, February 21, 2012


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Burma, which until very recently was seen as Southeast Asia's “problem child, is fast emerging as a rising star in the region. After decades of military misrule, many now feel that this battered country is ready to emerge as Asia's next tiger economy.

Among the biggest Burma boosters these days is Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), who is currently visiting the country.

In a recent Bangkok Post commentary, he wrote that Burma “has not only opened herself to the world, she is now ready to compete constructively with the rest of the Asean member states and, by extension, with the rest of the world.”

Burma's ongoing “opening” to the outside world would, he added, “continue to present a set of formidable challenges to Asean.”

Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

Surin's comments were, in part, a response to remarks made by Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who told a visiting Asean Business Club delegation earlier this month that her “simple ambition” was “to see Burma ahead of all the Asean countries [in the next 10 years].”

But before Burma can match Suu Kyi's words with action, it will have a lot of catching up to do. And before that can even began, it will have to resolve a host of issues that have plagued it for decades.

In fact, Burma is just beginning to take its first steps out of the political and economic quagmire in which it has found itself for the past half-century. It must now deal with everything from ethnic conflicts to rampant cronyism and a fiendishly complicated foreign exchange system.
 
So far, Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government has had some success in convincing the Burmese people and the international community that he is at least on the right track. He has done this by reaching out to Suu Kyi, releasing prominent political prisoners, negotiating ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups and making tentative moves to open up the economy.

But even after a year of the most significant changes since 1962, there are many elements within the current government that have barely begun to budge. Most of the ex-generals in the former junta are still in charge, and no one from any of the opposition or pro-democracy groups holds a position in the government. The speakers of both houses of Parliament are powerful ex-generals.

Less than a year ago, these facts were seen as evidence that nothing at all had changed in the wake of the November 2010 election that was supposed to usher in a new era of “disciplined democracy.” Now, however, people seem willing to let this pass, perhaps believing that Suu Kyi will somehow be able to correct this situation after she wins a seat in Parliament in the April 1 by-elections.

That is wishful thinking. We know that there are “hardliners” lurking in the shadows, quietly staying out of the limelight but ready to pounce the moment they see any threat to their interests. Already, we have seen some efforts to trip up Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which is now on the campaign trail for the first time in more than two decades.

At a press conference on Monday, NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said that some authorities had obstructed the party's campaign activities by withdrawing permission to use sports stadiums and soccer fields for political rallies. However, within hours of making the complaint, the Union Election Commission informed the NLD that all such restrictions on its activities had been lifted.

This speedy response to the NLD's grievances came as a real surprise, but the reason for the problem was far less surprising. It turns out that the son of Sports Minister Tint Hsan is a candidate in the elections for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which also demonstrated in 2010 that it had no real faith in its ability to win on an even playing field.

According to reliable high-ranking officials, no more than 30 percent of those currently serving in the government are genuinely interested in reform. The rest, they said, are either sitting on the fence or actively resisting change.

Perhaps that is why Suu Kyi has taken pains to emphasize the military's importance in putting the country on the road to recovery.



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Mg Min Nway Wrote:
27/02/2012
As long as unqualified junta's military men were not being removed from top posts Burma will never be a tiger.

This junta's men are just like pigs and never enough of eating everything.

chris jericho Wrote:
24/02/2012
@ tocharian - if you are implying people of burma as in burmen ONLY, your statement may hold water. otherwise, i am sure it is going to need more than what yingyang said to bring the ethnic minorities back to your hold again. what they have suffered under the burmen rule is beyond reconciliation by words.

Patriot Wrote:
24/02/2012
This is the crucial moment of Myanmar transiting towards a fully democratic country. As usual there will be strong resistance within Myanmar as well as from neighbouring country(s) against the change. Politicians and people need to be patient during this transition period. The process should not be too slow or too fast. We are lucky that we have a great leader as well as strong supporters. Be united and displined yourself.

Moe Aung Wrote:
24/02/2012
Dennis is right since we've seen how the Asian Tigers fared during times of economic crises, or the Celtic Tiger for that matter. Cubs compared with the big cats of the West, and we've also seen how these big beasts have fared over the last five years.

This elitist ambition is all well and good but could easily turn out to be even less promising to the public than Stalin and Mao claiming to catch up and beat the West. Trickle-down is not all it's cracked up to be.

tocharian Wrote:
23/02/2012
@YingYing
you said: "Burma has no tradition of business in the history" and "until the country is disappear from the map of globe"

That's exactly the kind of talk that will make the people of Burma unite. So please go on and make those kind of comments. It's good for Burma lol

YingYing Wrote:
22/02/2012
Burma has no tradition of business in the history, always isolated between India and China. Don't be glad about "scholars"'s praises
too much. As long as ethnic problems aren't solved, no "miracle" will happen, until the country is disappear from the map of globe.

tocharian Wrote:
22/02/2012
This Mandalay "obstruction campaign" probably has to do with the convoluted ties that some junta cronies have with the Chines Mafia that rules most of Mandalay's (and Myitkyina's) businesses, including land.
Suu Kyi's "simple ambition" should be to get rid of all these corrupt Chinese businessmen running wild in Burma first, before this cheap talk about being "the most properous country in ASEAN within the next 10 years".
Occupy Mandalay!

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
22/02/2012
I agree with Nobel Prize winner economist Joseph Stiglitz who highlighted Burma exchange rate and poor banking system. There is still solution for the exchange rate and land reforms. Once Aung San Suu Kyi is in parliament positive answer can find out, at this moment we can say this much only how to make the country inorder. Since there are many hard liners in the present cabinet, difficult to show all right path, because these peoples are copiers waitin g the chances.

Dennis Wrote:
22/02/2012
"On the plus side, the US has decided to relax its sanctions on Burma to allow the World Bank to provide some much-needed expertise."--This is a loaded statement that uncritically accepts impending neoliberal structural 'reforms'. I hope, for the sake of people in Burma, that a robust discussion on the limitations and failures of World Bank 'expertise' will take place. Such reforms can easily lead to perpetuating poverty, disparity and an entrenched elite selling the myth of becoming the next Asian tiger to the people and international community.

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