Follow @southasiaanalys

Myanmar: Time to focus on Economy:

Paper No. 6366                                Dated 17-Apr-2018
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
With the Cease fire process as well as the desired progress in Constitutional reforms going no where, it is but natural, that the Government of Suu Kyi is trying rearrange the priorities and focus more on the economy.
In his inaugural speech on 29th March, President Win Myint spelt out  the major objectives of the Union Government that included rule of law, an improvement in socio economic conditions, national reconciliation and peace and constitutional reforms in that order.  He specifically pledged to improve the living conditions of farmers and labourers. He ended his speech pledging that he will earnestly “strive for the change that citizens want to see”.  
State Counsellor Suu Kyi on the second anniversary of the NLD Government reiterated the objectives of her government in the same order spelt out earlier by the President.  She said that the main goals of her government will be the development of the socio economic life. In the coming year she promised that the government will adopt programmes that will bring real benefits to the citizens.
Two years ago, when the NLD Government took over governance, Suu Kyi’s priorities were seen to be ethnic reconciliation, constitutional reforms and economic empowerment in that order.  She seemed to have had high hopes in bringing the Panglong spirit once again and the two conferences she had, did bring about some forward movement but was not to the extent expected. The conflicts in the north and north eastern region have become more complicated with no immediate hopes of even a cease fire.
With no immediate chance of any constitutional reforms either , there is some realization that what is doable in only in the field of economy and that economy should take precedence now.  
In a commentary on the inauguration, a leading daily pointed out that many people from all walks of life have “consistently” complained that economy has deteriorated under the NLD and that businesses are dying. It is also said that the present deterioration of economy is not a little due to prioritization of the State Counsellor Suu Kyi of political matters such as peace process over the economy. 
It is therefore natural that a subtle change in the priorities has to be made and is being thought of.   Unfortunately Myanmar has been labelled as the “richest of the poor countries” and though rich in fossil fuels, rubies, jade and gold as well as other natural resources, it continues to be poor.  Its per capita income is said to be even less than that of Kampuchea!  Agriculture provides almost 60 percent of the GDP and the call to improve the life the farmers made by the incoming President should be welcomed by the people.  The President’s speech did raise hopes but as pointed out by the media, it  has also reminded the people of the political realities.  What is doable is to improve the living conditions of the people and that is what needs to be attempted if the NLD is to face the next general elections and repeat its earlier success.
In the course of the peace talks held with the people in Ayeyawady Region on April 10, Suu Kyi Suu Kyi told the people that peace and development are inseparable and that if a country is rich economically and physically it will provide security for the people. Given the constraints faced by Suu Kyi, it looks very doubtful of any major breakthrough in the peace talks with the militant entities and yet at least some progress can be achieved in improving the economy.
After the 2015 agreement when eight groups signed the cease fire agreement, only two minor groups have signed the agreement so far while the major and more powerful groups like  the UWSA and the KIA have refrained from signing it.  In fact the most powerful group backed by China  is demanding a totally different narrative for the peace dialogue.
The Peace Process itself is not proceeding smoothly and  its success is now dependent upon  the Armed Forces and China and the Chinese supported militant units.  Suu Kyi’s government appears to have lost the script. The reasons appear to be-
* The most powerful groups consisting of seven units that form the “Federal Political Negotiating Council Consultative Commission (FPNCC)” consisting of over 50000 well-armed fighters have not signed the National Cease fire agreement and instead have suggested a three-stage formula for negotiating as a group and not as individual units.
* The FPNCC group is allied to China and one of its aims to look for stability and peace on the Sino Myanmar border.  It is no surprise that the FPNCC has enthusiastically supported the BRI ( Belt and Road Initiative) of China.  
* The FPNCC alliance has openly sought continued support from China and has declared that China’s involvement has become more important and cannot be avoided. The aim of the group is to have a genuine federal union with right of self determination, regional autonomy and equality are guaranteed. 
* The fighting between the KIA and the Army (Tatmadaw) has intensified in the past few weeks and there appears to be no desire on either side to reduce the conflict.
* On the other hand, the situation has become more complicated with fighting between signatories and non signatories and even between the Army and the signatories thus complicating the situation further. The general feeling amongst the non signatories is that the Army with its dominating political presence will never agree to a federal union which is a minimum that is being demanded by the militant outfits. Surprisingly, no one is demanding outright secession!
* There are allegations from outfits like the RCSS and the NMSP- signatories that they are being prevented by the Army to have public consultations in their areas.  
It is therefore no surprise that Suu Kyi’s government is looking for economic empowerment as a priority  without giving up the two other objectives of ethnic reconciliation and constitutional reforms. It is doable and would go a long way in satisfying the people and in line with their slogan “Together”.