Is Burma on the right path to reform?

Is Burma on the right path to reform?

Several politicians and civic society leaders have weighed in on President Thein Sein’s comments this weekend when he told a forum of businessmen in Rangoon that Burma’s process of reform was on the “right path”.

Speaking to hundreds of business leaders and investors at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce office on Saturday, the Burmese president was quoted by state-run The New Light of Myanmar saying: “Since our government came into power, we have tried to institute policies grounded in accomplishing multi-sector reforms along with the political reforms, economic reforms and peace-building efforts. Because of these actions, I would like to add that the reform processes and transformations that have come about are on the right path.”

Following the statement, DVB contacted a broad spectrum of lawmakers, politicians and civil society leaders to gauge their reaction. Many conceded that Thein Sein’s claim was valid – that Burma was a much-improved nation since his government came to power in March 2011; however some, like Khin Maung Swe, the chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF), juxtaposed Thein Sein’s economic policy with a host of other social issues where progress is not so clear.

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“We have to assume, since he was talking to businessmen, that he meant we are on the right path for investment,” said the NDF leader. “He was putting the stress on wooing investors – that’s how I interpreted the ‘right path’ comment.

“However, as far as issues such as political and economic reforms, social development, the peace process, ethnic affairs and constitutional reforms are concerned, I don’t know if we are on the right path.”

Mya Aye of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society said it is still too early to claim Burma is on the right path.

“I do agree that reforms have been carried out since President Thein Sein came into office,” he said. “However, it is still a bit early to claim the country is heading in the right direction.

“The civil war has been reduced and we are now seeing more efforts toward a nationwide ceasefire. But we are yet to implement the ceasefire. I am not being pessimistic, but frankly I do not agree with everything the president said. I don’t believe that we should measure our economic situation on the amount of profits that businessmen make. It should be measured upon the improvements that ordinary people see in their lives.”

Phone Myint Aung, an Upper House representative from Rangoon Division, said the president’s remarks could be interpreted to mean that Burma was previously on the “wrong path”.

“Basically, he meant to say we were previously going down the wrong path – towards military dictatorship –and we cannot really go back that way.”

Meanwhile, Dr Tint Swe, a former politician who was elected to be a parliamentary representative in 1990, said Burma cannot be on the right path without constitution reform.

“In general, we can say the president’s remark was valid – the government is really working as he claimed, and in the right direction. But from an in-depth, political point of view, there are a lot of issues to consider.

“First of all, procedures are based upon the 2008 Constitution which was forcibly approved amid serious controversies and disagreements with the public,” he said. “So we could be heading in the right direction but with the wrong principals. Without fundamentally changing the principals, all efforts may ultimately go down the drain.”

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