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IDSA COMMENT

Ethnic Tension and Political Drift in Myanmar

May 27, 2013

It is quite some time since the massive anti-Rohingya riots occurred in early 2012, and nearly three months after the anti-Muslim upsurge by the Buddhists in Meikhtila and some adjoining places in the Bago region in lower Myanmar as well as in areas in Mandalay and Pegu Divisions of the country. The military campaign started by the Myanmar Army against the Kachins in upper Myanmar in December 2012, is still on , after the ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army broke down in mid-2011, with a major segment of the Myanmar Army`s General Staff in full control of the operations . On the political front, Aung San Suu Kyi has not articulated any clear stand on the ethnic issues vis-à-vis the Rohingyas, Muslims of Burman origin, the Kachins, or for that matter, in relation to any of the non-Burman major ethnic groups . The ethnic and communal tension is spreading, and the military operations against the minorities assuming a wider and hostile dimension.

The veneer of civilianization brought about since Thein Sein- an erstwhile Burmese General - assumed charge of the Myanmar Government in March 2011 , and with the National League for Democracy (NLD) being allowed to operate in the political realm , the NLD contesting forty four parliamentary seats and winning forty three of them in the 2012 parliamentary by-elections , etc, has not really lead to any fundamental change in the political structure of Myanmar and in the matter of democratically empowering the people of that country. No substantive progress is evident of reorientation of Myanmar`s polity towards economic empowerment of the different ethnic and religious groups through political dialogue by the present ruling outfit in Naypytaw ( the political and administrative capital of Myanmar located in central part of the country ), and also of restructuring of the central administrative executive by way of shedding the military persons in civilian garb presently in key administrative positions like the Generals who are members of the country`s Defence Council. Likewise, there has been no perceptible movement towards the working out of a basic political framework which institutionalizes democratic governance, with powers shared between the central government and provincial or regional administrative units organized keeping the country`s ethnic spread in view. The scenario outlined, does not seem to indicate Myanmar`s progress towards a harmonious juxtaposition of the country’s ethnic communities, administrative cohesion and unity, balanced economic development, and most importantly, domestic peace and harmony.

The impact of discord and disharmony within the country has started manifesting itself in the economic sphere. Despite the US and EU relaxing their sanctions in respect to investments and in regard to different forms of trade, development problems have started showing up.

Over the past two months, Myanmar`s Electricity Supply Board has imposed substantial cuts in power supplies to different categories of consumers, owing to constraints in generation and transmission of bulk electricity. As a result, 67% of the consumers in Yangon and 16% of those in the rural areas, since March 2013, are being deprived of electricity over extensive periods. This phenomenon, is bound to adversely affect Myanmar`s overall economic growth, and in turn, lead to production and supply side constraints, resulting in inflation.

Both India and Myanmar`s ASEAN neighbours, have an onerous role to play to abort the above-indicated consequences. However, no visible or unobtrusive political and diplomatic move on the part of these powers to induce the Myanmar government as well as political groups in Myanmar who are of consequence has been evident of late. Trans-country migrations as a result of continuing political turmoil and economic hardship, with attendant political ramifications for the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and even India seem to be looming large in the not-too-distant a future.

The author is Gautam Sen (IDAS : Retd) , ex-Additional CGDA and presently serving as Adviser to Govt. of Nagaland.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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