Myanmar needs a road map for its transition from a military dictatorship to a full democracy.
This was the essential theme to come out of a panel discussion on the weekend entitled, “Stock-taking: Where is Myanmar in its Transition.”
The panelists were U Phyo Zeyar Thaw, Member of Parliament, Pyithu Hluttaw, U Aung Kyi Nyut, Member of Parliament, Amyotha Hluttaw, and U Tin Maung Than, Myanmar Development Resource Institute (MDRI). The session was moderated by Daw Thin Thin Aung of the Mizzima Media Group.
The following is an assessment of the discussions by the three panelists:
The essence of taking stock of democratic transition involves identification of progress on the fronts of human rights promotion, rule of law and the systems of governance. On this front, some of the empirical evidence points out that Myanmar has achieved progress to a certain extent (a study from MDRI scholar puts it at around 50%). There is still lot more to achieve. In general there appears to be a positive view on the transition process in terms of various democracy indicators.
Transition to democratic process involved existence and working of independent political parties, acknowledgement and taking action on human rights violations. Fair and transparent election process is one step in that direction.
What is critical from this stage of assessment is to develop a clear road map and comprehensive strategy for transition. A time-bound action plan is important in terms of strengthening institutions, processes of reforms in economic, social and development fronts. A vision led processes are critical. That enables setting up indicators of progress over time.
There are institutions that are set up as part of the constitutional process and each of them have their roles to move forward. The military, parliament and administration need to engage in discharging their respective duties with accountability. Elements of good governance involves ensuring rule of law, respect for human rights of all. Media and CSO freedom also part of good governance that needs to be established.
The idea of change in mind-set and forward looking thinking involves not living in the past (or trapped by the past) but looking into the future. This would mean a fresh approach is needed in terms of vocabulary and terminologies that we use in the process of transition and peace process. While acknowledging the struggles and sacrifices of many in the democratization process, it is important to note that living in the past does not make us move forward.
Democratization would also mean working together with all stakeholders while identifying differences in the positions and perspectives. There is need to ensure that all institutions take their responsibilities and ensure that they discharge the same effectively.
Parliament is discharging its duties in terms of repealing some of the laws and amending some in order to ensure that there is an environment of freedom and democratic functioning of institutions. This process is gradual and we may not expect all changes to occur in a short span of time.
It is to be understood that democratic transition has raised lot of expectations. In terms of federalism, it is a long drawn process that is linked to peace and reconciliation. Some of the changes that people are expecting are also linked to the constitutional reform that is to be addressed through a broad based engagements of all stakeholders.
In order to ensure lasting peace, there is a need to have more engagement of institutions (government and non-state actors) to meet more often and build trust and understanding. Expectations and aspirations of all stakeholders have to be accommodating without judging each other.
There are also aspects that need to learn from the culture and society of Myanmar, particularly, the perspective on rights which has to be seen as co-terminus with obligations. Questions like what kind of responsibilities and obligations that each institution had and how they discharge and what are the obligations of the citizens are critical.
In terms of international organisations, what they can do in future depends on how the country develops a vision for its democratic transition and systematic thinking on this is required. With clear vision and objectives laid down, international assistance can be used effectively.
In terms of stock taking, there are several initiatives on the economic front in order to enable private sector participate in the development process. Still there are lot more to do in building investor confidence. Several laws like the investment law and the companies act have also been some of the developments and more needs to be done.
Similarly several laws are being discussed and to be reformed in the coming years in addressing human rights challenges.
From the perspective of peace and stability, there is a broad consensus that there would be territorial integrity and the task in front of the people is to take forward the political dialogue and peace process with the support of all stakeholders. There is a clear role for CSOs also in this process. This is a not a time-bound process but at the same time there can be ways of accelerating the process.
Another aspect related to moving forward is strengthening the governance and management capacities of the system.
Finally, confidence and trust are critical for successful achievement of democratic transition. We need to recognize now NLD is in the driver’s seat and it needs to manage people’s expectations and take on board constructive criticism of the people and respect the views of people as feedback to improve its performance.