(P12AB) Burma’s First Democratic Term: Politics and Society in Myanmar, 2021
Part 1Session 1
Wed 09:00-10:30 K10 | 3.39
Part 2Session 2
Wed 11:00-12:30 K10 | 3.39
- Ryan Hartley Chuo University
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Myanmar’s governments in exile: legitimacy and power
Catherine Renshaw Western Sydney University
In the days that followed the February 2021 coup d’etat carried out by Myanmar’s military, NLD Members of Parliament established an alternative government, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and sought recognition in the United Nations General Assembly and in other forums as the legitimate government of the country. On 6 March, the military issued a decree stating that members of the CRPH were guilty of treason and would face the death penalty. The NLD had previously established a government-in-exile in 1990, following the military’s failure to hand over power in general elections that year. This presentation examines the circumstances in which the international community recognises the authority and legitimacy of governments-in-exile. The presentation examines the practical diplomatic consequences of overturning the presumption of the territorially bounded sovereign state and considers, from the perspective of various actors, the implications of recognition in terms of events on the ground in Myanmar.
Theorising Myanmar: Statisim, Political-Economy, Military Regimes, and Society
Ryan Hartley Chuo University
There is a large problem, as far as I can see, when approaching Myanmar: it is both overly popular and under-theorised.
In relation to the first, Myanmar’s position in global news cycles, extremely vocal campaigning civil society inside and outside the country, and idealised position within discourses as a historical battleground between the forces of good (democracy) and bad (authoritarianism) mean that the country is rarely interpreted soberly. As genuine Myanmar expert Renaud Egreteau puts it:
The endless list of misconceptions Burma has been the object of over the years has been particularly striking after 2010. Scores of amazed foreign journalists, who entered the country for the first time in their lives to interview Aung San Suu Kyi [….] and report their bewilderment. (Egreteau, 2013: 3)
In relation to the second, (a) the preponderance of headlines rather than theories in approaching Myanmar and (b) the variegated panoply and self-confirmatory nature of many of the ideas about Myanmar, mean that it is possible to find anything you want to in Myanmar; the blind men touching the elephant. As Robert H Taylor puts it:
The study of the political in Myanmar over the past 200 years has been conducted in circumstances and with methods that have resulted in only partial and often unsatisfactory outcomes. Difficulties of accessing data and problems in its analysis have forced analysts to seek to understand Myanmar’s politics often through informed hunches from a comparative perspective. As the field has grown, it has also become somewhat more politicised and there is a necessity to be analytically self-critical in order to avoid making ‘facts’ fit theories. (Taylor, 2008: 219)
In this presentation I would like to attempt to cut through the noise and gather what theoretical insights the field of Myanmar Studies has generated, or in reverse, what other fields have generated that Myanmar can demonstrate. The task here is to get meta, to rise above disciplines and sub-disciplines, and find generalised ideas that can help channel and filter headlines into analysis.
What went wrong in the Myanmar’s Peace Process?
Kyaw Lin Oo Center for Peace and Reconciliation
Myanmar is multi-ethnic diverse country in Southeast Asia. Since Myanmar has been independent from British colony in 1948, successive governments of Myanmar face different insurgencies from different ethnics and ideologies lines. Due to internal conflicts and excessive rely on Military power, the country’s Army, called Tatmadaw, has been more powerful in political arena and it took the power by the coup from young democratic civilian government after one decade of independent. The military coup could not solve the ethnic question of the country and even worse as the prolonged civil war has been seem in Myanmar. The successive Governments of Myanmar tried to make Peace with ethnic insurgents as well as with the leftist one. However, it didn’t make any positive outcome from these peace deal. When the military junta organized the first multi- parties election in 2010 after five decades, the ex-Generals turned Civilian President Thein Sein came into power in April, 2011 and called for Peace Negotiation in August 18, 2011 with different ethnic insurgents for the future of Myanmar. It was very significant step throughout the history and ended in signing the Nationwide Cease Fire Agreements with eight Ethnic Insurgents in 2015 and opened the political Dialogues for the Federalization of Myanmar. President Thein Sein and his political party lost to Nation Leagues for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 general election and new NLD Government sworn into the office from 2016 to 2020. The New NLD Government continued the political negotiations with Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) according to frameworks of NCA. However, it didn’t make any significant progress in the political dialogues due to lack of trust between the majority Bamar and different minority ethnics as well as between the NLD, main opposition to the Military Junta for twenty years and new general of Military leadership in current Myanmar Military. It causes to slow the process of political negotiation and several breakdowns during the negotiation.
Emergent Identity: volunteerism, social media and the new citizen in Myanmar
Mike Griffiths University of Hull; University of Mandalay
I argue that the predominantly youth-led resistance to the 2021 Feb 1st coup d’etat was largely influence by forms of citizenship emerging in the preceding decade of transition from military to civilian rule. The suppression of overt political activity and organized civil society during military rule forced a generation of activists to engage in a form of citizenship shaped by public welfare, such as parahita organizations. These groups consistently described themselves as apolitical, and yet provided youth with a means to engage as citizens, carving out a space for activism. Whilst the military government sought to suppress this, and the USDP government to compete with it, the NLD government sought to harness the energy of these organizations towards more overtly political goals. The youth vote was a significant element of the NLD’s 2020 election victory, and in denying the legitimacy of that vote, the military government disenfranchised a large section of the public which was highly experienced in local organization, and in using social media to engage with donors and other volunteers. This presentation looks back at the character of the ‘volunteer citizen’, particulalry as a contrasting type with the ‘ethnic citizen’ or the ‘national citizen’, and considers how the volunteer movement, particularly amongst the youth, has the potential to transcend and transform other identities, creating a space for plural belonging which is shaped less by biological or political identity makers, and more by local associations of civic identity.
Myanmar: 10 Uncomfortable Questions
Ryan Hartley Chuo University
In this presentation I will seek to bypass a focus on the everyday and the noumenal regarding Myanmar’s current situation by cutting through with ten uncomfortable questions. These will be varied – historical, social, institutional, conceptual – but all united by a single motivating idea: most arenas of life in Myanmar are essentially contested. Does Myanmar maintain so many fundamental structural issues that radical measures need to be taken or otherwise change must be seen as impossible? Rather than tinkering with super-structural activities such as elections, parties, international diplomacy, does Myanmar need to resolve some base level issues first? Interrogating this means difficult questions such as: “is Myanmar really a stable nation-state?” or “will the military be with Myanmar forever?” or “is there a mutually agreed upon concept of legitimacy or authority in Myanmar?” or a big one, “are the NLD and Aung Suu Kyi holding Myanmar back?” Without addressing some basic questions about society, the economy, and politics, it is feared that Myanmar may remain locked in cycles of progress and backsliding; becoming like an Israel / Palestinian for Southeast Asia – intractable and motivating of divisive politics amongst groups wider than Myanmar itself.
The Decentralization of the Police and Its Performance in Four Ethnic States of Myanmar
Min Zaw Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security
Myo Naing Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security
Myanmar commenced its democratic transition with the enactment of the 2008 Constitution. The constitution established a federal structure, which comprises 14 sub-units (seven ‘Regions’ in Bamar majority areas and seven ‘States’ in ethnic majority areas) and six-administered areas. It also creates ‘national race affairs’ minister positions for smaller ethnic groups in Region/State level (non-territorial arrangements). However, there is not genuine federalism as the essence of federalism is still weak. Ethnic armed groups and political parties have been demanding federal democracy and self-determination, which is believed by many to be the only way to end the decades-long conflicts in Myanmar. After the 2015 election, there were high hopes that the new governing party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) would meet these demands and establish a genuine federal democracy. However, the NLD was not able to make significant progress before the military coup of February 2021. The general elections in 2010, 2015 & 2020 did not accommodate the ethnic political parties in Parliament and Government as these elections resulted one-party domination in Parliament: Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in 2010 and NLD in 2015 and 2020. This presentation will demonstrate how federalism and electoral systems interacted to sideline ethnic political parties, heighten the concerns of the military and ultimately undermine work towards the development of a more stable and inclusive democracy
On February 1st 2021 the world watched an aerobics instructor in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, as behind her could be seen tanks rolling up to blockade the capital’s airport-width roads. What happened next was, and continues to be, no less than a complete undoing of decades of transformation, liberalisation, and (partial) democratisation. Myanmar’s Tatmadaw initiated a state of emergency that has placed them back in charge. The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) has arisen, pitted against the military. Yangon and Mandalay have turned into warzones. National ceasefires have broken down. City protestors are moving to the countryside in order to get guerrilla training. Protests in capitals around the world and within the UN have flared, including some of Myanmar’s own ambassadors disowning the Tatmadaw and later facing assassination attempts. The National League for Democracy (NLD has been disbanded and the country’s Election Commission. Aung San Suu Kyi, the once iconic leader, has been held under arrest on dubious charges. A parallel government of ousted lawmakers has constituted itself in the form of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) with claims to represent true authority in Myanmar, later forming their own military force, the People Defense Force. It is safe to say that Myanmar’s future does not look bright; that the country is at best returning to previous authoritarian rule but possibly at worse, breaking down into civil war.
This panel seeks to investigate not the 2021 coup d’etat but the period prior that the coup has now bookended. There are two points to consider. First, is that the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi need to be critically assessed for their politics, policies, and reforms. We are long past the time of idealism and symbolism with democracy pitted against authoritarianism. As politicians having been in power, Myanmar’s democrats should be evaluated for their actions to help the people of Myanmar just like any other government. Relatedly, is the need to hold outside narrative creators to account as well, as Myanmar is subjected to endless amounts of misrepresentations and self-deceptions. Second, is the need to assess structurally. Meaning, to dig deep into the many many fundamental issues that Myanmar faces outside of simple elections and voting. Questions of legitimacy and meaning, institutions, structures of power, all manner of contestations are open to debate in Myanmar. These also need to be assessed in this panels aim of critiquing Myanmar’s failed first period of democracy.