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LinkAsia | May 3
Burma is poised to undergo rapid expansion, economically and internationally, embracing democracy after years of military rule. As Burma strengthen...
Suu Kyi’s ability to attract huge crowds of people during her campaign rallies has made the Burmese government nervous. And recently she was unable to secure a stadium for a rally in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. Mandalay was the site of the 2007 Saffron Revolution when Buddhist monks led an anti-government uprising.
To tell us whether there’s been a setback in the regime’s program of reforms, I’m joined by Dr. Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. Dr. Zarni, can you give us some background on the problems that Suu Kyi faced in Mandalay?
Maung Zarni, London School of Economics:
I think it's one of the earliest and clearest signs of the regime feeling uncomfortable with Aung San Suu Kyi campaigning, mobilizing public opinion and, most importantly, touching the issue of constitutional amendments, because this is the constitution that the military crafted to assure themselves of safe and secure wealth and future power.
Now some analysts see other worrying signs of a possible slowdown in the pace of reform. Do you see these as well?
Oh, absolutely. I have not cheered on or played a cheerleader role on the side as the so-called reform process started. For two reasons. One is that the regime has not had a genuine change of heart, unlike the apartheid regime under de Klerk. We're not approaching a Mandela moment. We are not in a de Klerk-Mandela negotiation phase, even. There is no real deal between Aung San Suu Kyi and the so-called reformist president Thein Sein.
Secondly, what is motivating the regime to make these gestures of reforms, and to a degree they're real, but they're not significant enough, because all the existing draconian emergency laws are in place and all the generals who were in power two years ago are the same guys who are calling the shots. And so there's no real change of heart. There are no serious, significant, practical reforms on the ground. A lot of talk. What is significant is the west is desperate to go along with the reform talks, because the west has a different agenda, rather than genuine democratization. The west is concerned about the economic downturn in its backyard, and also it's concerned about the growing power of China. And Burma plays a strategic role in helping contain China's growing power.
Do you believe that the European Union and the US are moving at the right speed in terms of easing sanctions against the regime?
It's not so much as easing the sanctions, because as far as Washington is concerned, the sanctions have not been eased significantly. I think it's the European Union that is desperate to use carrots. Like the European Union just offered 200 million euros or dollars in development aid, whereas on the ground, the regime is in no position to undertake any meaningful developmental program, because there are no legal or institutional reforms.
And as far as Washington goes, its moves are very clear. It's planning to send David Petraeus, the CIA director, in a situation where human rights and reforms are most needed. What type of advice or contribution is the CIA going to make democratizing and promoting human rights in Burma?
Thanks so much. Dr. Maung Zarni is a Burmese scholar based in London.