Freeing the “Rice Bowl of Asia”: How Changing Patterns of Interdependence are Driving Political Change in Myanmar

Author
Alex Ripley
Content Type
Policy Brief
Institution
Centre for the Study of Security and Development, Dalhousie University
Abstract
Wedged between Southeast Asia, China, and the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar occupies a strategically important space which will ensure its relevance to some of the 21st century’s most significant questions, including those surrounding trade routes, energy security, and the competing geopolitical ambitions of Asia’s great powers. Exciting and important changes are underway in Myanmar. After decades of isolation under military governments, the country is taking convincing steps toward democratization. The junta relinquished much of its power in 2010. In 2011, the unpopular Myitsone hydroelectric project was suspended, suggesting a new sensitivity to public opinion. Beginning that year, a nominally civilian government led by Thein Sein (a former Tatmadaw general) embarked on a series of major political and economic reforms. These culminated in the relatively open 2015 elections, in which the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—the party of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi—won overwhelming majorities of both houses of parliament. In March 2016, parliament elected Htin Kyaw as the country’s first civilian president in half a century. What explains Myanmar’s relatively rapid transition from authoritarian pariah to fragile democracy? Perhaps international pressure forced the hand of the regime; then again, the West imposed sanctions on Myanmar for years before the military’s grip on power began to loosen. Lee Jones argues that the junta simply liberalized when its objectives were achieved.
Topic
International Affairs, Military Affairs, Elections, Democracy, Economy, Trade
Political Geography
Asia, Myanmar