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What made Myanmar's rulers decide to become democrats?

The world has been surprised and delighted by Myanmar's sudden turnround and rush towards democracy. But what made it happen?

  • Meidyatama Suryodiningrat
  • Myanmar
  • February 16, 2012
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It’s time to be cautiously optimistic and give Burma a chance. While Asean may not have been right, perhaps it wasn’t mistaken in its much-maligned gambit of “constructive engagement” with the nation.

Change is indeed occurring in Burma. From the quaint roads of decaying colonial mansions to the idyllic plateau where the Shwedagon Pagoda sits, opportunity, opportunism and a sense of readiness are palpable.

The world, too, has noticed. Foreign dignitaries and tycoons have been lining up at Rangoon International Airport, anxious to take credit for encouraging change — or fearful of missing out on the next big thing in Asia.

The reasons for this “sudden” political turnaround are as complicated as the ethnic rivalries within Burma.

It was not due to a single cause or person. Sanctions alone did not bring about change, nor did Asean’s constructive engagement. Neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor Thein Sein was the prime mover.

Ultimately, change resulted from a confluence of factors.

Two decades of “Western” sanctions did not bring about change — but their detrimental impact on Burma’s society stymied the potential for growth, leaving the nation to fall further behind its Asean peers.

A teetering economy, a high poverty level and widening wealth disparities have always made for a political powder keg. Very much as happened in Indonesia, uprisings in 1988 and 2007 in Burma were sparked by increases in the prices of basic staples and fuel.

Limited access to development funds also limited Burma’s capacity building. The nation receives US$6 per capita in development assistance, compared to $42 for Vietnam, $52 for Cambodia and $62 for Laos.

Full Story: Drip, drip, democracy - Burma's revolution from above

Source: Asia News Network
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