If international community is anticipating a replication of Jasmine people’s revolution (Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt) in the military-backed Asian nation of Myanmar, then it would certainly be a disappointment for them as it’s essentially a distant dream.
Release of democratic icon Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi may be moment of cherish for international community and votaries of democracy but will hardly have any significant impact on the military-backed establishment.
There is no denying of the fact that governments in Tunisia and Egypt have been corrupt, badly governed, social provisioning system inadequate and repressive over many decades. Same is in the case of Myanmar. Government repressive measures can easily be measured with a simple example that, the possession of an unregistered fax machine in Myanmar is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Why the revolution took place in Tunisia and Egypt now and why it is not taking place in Myanmar?
Realistic assessment does reveal the fact that the trigger for massive uprising among the Jasmine people and subsequent regime change otherwise known as fourth wave of democratisation, was essentially due to the exorbitant hike in food prices prompting a vast gulf between the minuscule rich and vast majority of poor population.
These revolutions were channelized initially through the increased use of social networking media such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube etc. that had prompted the media membership to come to the street. The role of communication network in a revolution can hardly be belittled as was the case with the Iranian “Green Revolution” in 2009 and Moldova revolution in the same year.
In the above light, possibility of such a revolution in Myanmar is a mere wishful thinking at least in the immediate future despite the corrupt and oppressive nature of the regime.
Firstly, food riot is not a possibility at least in the immediate future as the country has rich agricultural products.
Myanmar has only 400,000 internet users, who mostly rely on cyber cafés
Secondly, the absence of techs-savvy population in the country due to poor communication network also helps in the regime-sustenance. Additionally, the regime also has the capability to control internet communication network as they had done in 2007 to counter anti-government demonstrations.
The country has reportedly 400,000 internet users out of approximately 60 million total populations and users are mostly confined to major cities like Rangoon and Mandalay. As such, internet connectivity is very slow. However, supporters of the government are privileged few who have direct and unrestricted access to the internet use in the country. In general, very few have their own personal computers and mostly people rely on cyber cafés for internet access.
Cyber cafés are more vulnerable to regime-diktat. There are reports that military-backed government have instructed cyber cafe owners to install spying software on their computers to record anti-government online activities. Twitter has already been banned in the country.
Now in this case, the option is a charismatic leader needs to channelize the peoples anguish to anti-government tirade. But can Suu Kyi manage to do this?
The answer will be big `No’ due to her circumstances. Military-backed regime has already suppressed pro-democratic movement over the last two decades. Suppression of 2007 Saffron Revolution sparked due to fuel price-hike was a glaring example.
They were almost successful in isolating Suu Kyi and her party from the masses thus far. It is essential that Suu Kyi needs to reactivate its mass contact in order to be politically relevant. However, any kind of such activism is bound to incur the wrath of the regime and will be crushed firmly.
In order to be relevant amongst the masses and towards a genuine upliftment of her society, What Suu Kyi can try for is to channelize her influence amongst the western powers to remove sanctions against Myanmar, press for western investments towards opening up of the economy, press for increase in all humanitarian aid and massive financial allocation for human rights and democracy projects via country’s genuine independent civil society groups.
It is frustrating to know that the military regime had allegedly tinkered with the process of referendum, conducted election deliberately at a time when Myanmar was affected by the hurricane Nargis, and released Suu Kyi coinciding with the poll results to divert international attention from the rigged-poll. Despite the fact that the country has a newly-elected President and vice-president, including an ethnic Shan politician, genuine democracy is still a dream as the new government is dominated and controlled by ex-Myanmar generals.
However, one positive development of continuing democratisation process will be the likely growth of new elites and power-centre in the arena leading to different set of equations in the Myanmar’s power corridors.
Currently, international community is seemingly relying on two options- Engagement or Isolationism.
If they will pro-actively engage Myanmar with funds and lifting up sanctions then it would be helpful for country’s general economic growth and community self-sufficiency. This in turn will help them greater control over the political arena and the international community in collaboration with genuine civil society groups may initiate negotiation, accommodation and bargaining among the three key blocks–the armed forces, the fledgling democracy activists and the diverse armed ethnic opposition groups for ushering into genuine democratic state.
However, if they continue with the strategy of isolationism, it will undoubtedly accentuate poverty and prompt hungry people to revolt against the Government in future. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, most people in Myanmar survive on less than $1 a day. Only last month, opposition parties called for an end to sanctions as a way of easing the economic burden.
The country ranks among the poorest countries in Asia and yet receives a fraction of the international aid spent in countries like Laos and Cambodia. If at all revolution will take place, overthrowing a dictatorial regime or military-backed democratic regime does not necessarily bring genuine democracy rather may bring even more repressive authority as was the case with countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Iran.
Maitreya Buddha Samantaray
(Regional Analyst-Asia, iJET Intelligent Risk Systems)
Maitreya Buddha Samantaray is a Regional Analyst-Asia, with US-based iJET Intelligent Risk Systems (www.ijet.com). Prior to that, he worked with Israeli company Max-Security Solutions, US-based At Risk Protection, International SOS and was a correspondent of The Indian Express, Jammu and Kashmir, India. He was the recipient of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) Doctoral fellowship for his PhD work in JNU. He has published a good number of articles in different magazines, journals and web portals of national and international repute and presented several papers in national and international seminars. Views expressed in the article are his own and purely personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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