Burma’s National League for Democracy could take power, a senior presidential aide said today, welcoming the prospect of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi assuming office.
“They can be the ruling party one day,” said Nay Zin Latt, the personal political counselor to President Thein Sein. The current reform process is “genuine and authentic” but “obviously reversible,” he warned.
“The West wants us to be a democratic country. Politically they will get a benefit from this because we will be part of the democratic world and the West wants to contain China,” Latt said.
The European Union today announced plans to open an office and consider lifting sanctions if current political reforms were sustained.
Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros will also establish an “official presence” in the country to aid “the transition from a closed to a more open society,” he said, after “a wide ranging discussion about the reform process” in meetings with Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi.
The US and the EU are waiting for confirmation that the reform process is genuine before ending sanctions.
There was widespread disappointment that only 12 political detainees were among the 900 prisoners released this week as an Independence Day gesture. Some 1,500 political prisoners are still behind bars, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, but government official Wunna Maung Lwi told the BBC that there were only “criminals” in Burma’s jails.
Lifting the economic penalties is “the only way to go,” said analyst Thant Myint-U.
“Sanctions have never been effective at pressuring the government and at this point may even hinder the kind of reforms we all want to see in Myanmar,” he said.
Other analysts note that censorship remains, though relaxed; the regime retains control of political and economic assets; and the military is still conducting offensive operations against ethnic minorities along the country’s north-eastern borders.
The reform process should be encouraged, says Benedict Rogers, author of a biography on former military dictator Than Shwe, but “if the regime wants to convince us it is changing” there should to be “an end to the attacks in the ethnic states, and a nationwide cease-fire must be announced.”
Grassroots activists like Yuza Maw Htoon remain wary of the regime’s intentions.
“The international community gives recognition only to the Lady and that makes the government happy,” she says. “There is a need for other interlocutors too, both for the authorities here and for our friends overseas.”
Similarly, senior NLD official U Win Tin, one of the founders of the party could “not accept this [government’s] so-called change” in favor of “democratization” and fears that the West is being deceived.
“I cannot trust it. There are still two motorbikes from military intelligence outside my home, like there have been for decades. There are still many friends in prison,” he says. “If the west put the whole focus on [Aung San Suu Kyi] that could be very misleading. We trust in her and her intuition but this is all happening very quickly.”
Such “skepticism is warranted,” says Joshua Kurlantzick, an Asia analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, recalling that “supposedly savvy, sophisticated Western leaders have been fooled before”:
In the mid-1990s, and again in the early 2000s, some Burmese officials appeared dedicated to reform. At that time, the government also held limited dialogue with Suu Kyi, briefly freed her from house arrest and courted Western investors and officials. Pleased by these seemingly positive developments, the outside world responded by pouring in investment, allowing Burma to join important regional organizations and stepping up aid. And both times, when the generals had gotten what they wanted from the West, they slammed the door shut: Suu Kyi was tossed back in jail, investments were nationalized, political opponents were targeted and aid organizations were forced out of the country. Reform-minded officials were placed under house arrest or jailed.
“Still, the recent reforms are more substantial than in those previous eras of glasnost, and Burma’s future seems more up in the air,” Kurlantzick concludes.
“Myanmar will progress,” predicts:
If Aung San Suu Kyi truly does compete in and win a by-election, there will be a real, vocal opposition in parliament for the first time, scrutinizing the government in a way that does not happen right now. Is Thein Sein’s administration ready for this? I think so.
Many dissident considered Nay Win Maung to be politically ambitious and “too cozy” with Burma’s rulers, one account suggests:
But then the government began making unexpected changes last year, such as freeing some political prisoners and loosening restrictions on the media and the Internet. Mr. Nay Win Maung’s views started to look more prescient.
He argued that Myanmar’s new political system, despite many shortcomings, is already far closer to Western norms than most outsiders believe. Although the country’s constitution helps ensure military power by reserving 25% of all parliamentary seats for soldiers, among other provisions, Mr. Nay Win Maung focused on the fact that it at least offers a framework for implementing parliamentary democracy. He hoped that future elections—such as one expected in 2015—would be free and fair.
He also believed that many of Myanmar’s national leaders crave international legitimacy, giving them an incentive to permit further reforms. President Thein Sein, he argued, was especially eager to do good for the country, and has become more ambitious about making changes—and more mindful of his legacy—with each successful reform. He encouraged followers to read books such as “Transitions from Authoritarian Rule,” a scholarly examination of countries that have ended authoritarian systems, to better understand the possible way forward.
Supporters said Mr. Nay Win Maung’s contacts on both sides of Myanmar’s political divides made him a more effective interlocutor between the government and its opponents…..
“We thought that he was pro-government,” said Maung Maung Lay, a Yangon-based vice president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which represents Myanmar’s business sector. But as more reforms are passed, “he seems to [have been] impartial.”