The very word “Burma” was once shorthand for a brutal military dictatorship, but things have now changed dramatically. Burma (or Myanmar) has come to be viewed as a country firmly committed to the establishment of a new reality, founded upon respect for human rights and the rule of law. Behind this changing perception are a series of planned government reforms and gestures. In 2010, under the auspices of the so-called “seven stage road-map to democracy” Burma’s government ended the 15-year house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. A further 2,000 political prisoners were subsequently released, many of whom had languished in the aptly named Insein prison.
With the country’s leading opposition politician free, a notionally civilian government was formed. General and local elections were held, and support for the opposition was publicly demonstrated. Today, Burma’s civil society is re-emerging as legal reforms allow for at least some political expression. Presidential elections are planned for November 2015; providing she is able to stand, the prospect of a President Aung San Suu Kyi offers the prospect of a new dawn for Burma.
Given these achievements, it seems reasonable to say that Burma’s transition is going well – the country is making meaningful progress along the road to democracy. But sadly, that conclusion is not yet justified. Given a series of recent events and one longstanding problem in particular, Burma’s reform process is in serious danger of collapse.