The Myanmar Parliament convened this past Wednesday with the violence in the Rakhine state and economic reform in the country as main topics on the opening agenda. The beginning of the Parliament session comes in the midst of the Vice President stepping down, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy entering Parliament for the first time in years, and the recent release of 46 political prisoners. The cabinet has a number of major issues to address, ranging from the social unrest and state of emergency in the Rakhine state to the completion of the new foreign investment law and economic reform measures.
VP steps down
Early yesterday Myanmar President Thein Sein announced the resignation of Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo after only a year in office, citing health issues. VP Tin Aung Myint Oo is a former high-ranking member of the military junta, and has been characterized by his wariness toward reform in the country. His absence potentially frees President Thein Sein to move forward more quickly on his reform agenda, and to take advantage of the new economic opportunities available now that the US and European Union have suspended their long-standing sanctions.
A successor must be named by July 10th, but as of now it is unclear who will be appointed to replace Mr. Tin Aung Myint Oo. With the appointment of a new VP, analysts predict the replacement of 3-4 ministers in the cabinet.
Aung San Suu Kyi & The National League for Democracy (NLD) Return
Missing from the cabinet-line up was the newly-elected Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was granted special permission to miss the opening proceedings due to exhaustion after her trip to Europe. She is expected to return on Monday after touring her constituency. Her party, the National League for Democracy, is solidly reclaiming its place in the Parliament after years of being barred by the military.
Although she is absent from Parliament , Ms. Suu Kyi made it a priority to make a statement recognizing the government’s release of 46 political prisoners and calling for the remaining prisoners to be released.
The government has been highly criticised by human-rights groups and foreign governments for not releasing political prisoners. This past Tuesday President Thein Sein took a step forward by granting amnesty to 46 of the estimated 500 political prisoners still in captivity. While some, including Ms. Suu Kyi, are disappointed by the relatively small number of prisoners released, the action indicates progress and perhaps recognition of the importance of the perception of their government held by potential investors.
Diplomatic ties between the United States and Myanmar were restored following the release of 300 political prisoners in October 2011 and a further 200 in January 2012. Perhaps this pattern of reconciliation with foreign governments following reform actions will help encourage the Myanmar government to address social and economic issues in the country with the hope of financial reward and investment. If this is the case, then potential investors would do well to express their concerns and let their hesitations be known. Likewise, Myanmar needs to vote on the Foreign Investment Law that has been delayed twice. Putting forth such a document while making strides in human rights efforts and political form could provide a positive investment climate, ultimately encouraging the progress already underway in the country.