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Déjà vu in Myanmar

Updated On: Oct 13, 2006

There always seems to be a sense of deja vu when it comes to news on Myanmar. The same few issues keep recurring like a bad nightmare.

This week, the New Light of Myanmar has been providing relatively extensive coverage of its constitution convention. Despite the resumption of the national convention to draft its new constitution, there remains deep scepticism both abroad and in Myanmar over the extent of the sincerity of the military government to relinquish power. For instance, the Malaysian newspaper, New Straits Times has called the entire episode of reconvening of National Convention a “masquerade.” The Myanmar government has not provided much ground for optimism on the democratisation process. In the first place, the constitution drafting process has already taken 14 years. Yet the end still does not seem in sight. Nor does the military government seem to be in a hurry to expedite the process. The Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan commented, “The timeframe is not important for us… the most important is to implement the system fairly.”

Unfortunately, the criterion of fairness does not seem to be extended to the National League for Democracy (NLD). Its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. The NLD has also walked out of the drafting process in protest of what it sees as a “sham” process. In turn, the military government has been harsh in their dealings with the NLD. In a press briefing recently, two senior government officials have strongly criticised the NLD for encouraging foreign criticism of the government and calling for international sanctions on Myanmar.

Thus far, the economic sanction does not seem to have affected Myanmar’s economic growth. The government claims, with a generous dash of hyperbole, that the economy is growing at 11-13% annually for the past five years. However, the International Monetary Fund has put the annual growth to about 4.5%-5.5% recently except in 2003 when there was a banking crisis. Nonetheless, the IMF’s estimate of Myanmar’s growth of approximately 7% in 2006-2007 is still high. This is due to rising exports from the offshore Yadana and Yatguna gas fields. Outside of the energy sector, Myanmar’s economic prospects look bleak. The IMF reported, “Growth has picked up and the balance of payment has improved from gas exports…  However, living standards are low, and inflation is increasing…. Prospects for sustained growth in real income are constrained by inflation, structural rigidities, weak economic policies and low investment.” 

Sources:

Masquerade in Myanmar (New Straits Times, 12 October 2006)

IMF Warns Burma High Inflation (Financial Times [London], 11 October 2006)

China Must Reassess Its Position on Myanmar (South China Morning Post, 11 October 2006

Burma Vows Tough Line on Pro-Democracy Activists (ABC Premium News [Australia], 10 October 2006)