Reversals in Burma's Democratic Reform

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Burma’s president, Thein Sein, once said he could imagine Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader, as president of Burma. “If the people accept her, I will have to accept her,” he told an interviewer in September 2012. It was a remarkable statement from a former general whose military persecuted Aung San Suu Kyi for decades after her National League for Democracy party was prevented from taking office after its landslide 1990 electoral victory. At the time of his comments, Thein Sein was leading Burma in what appeared to be an exciting, if tentative political opening. Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest. In 2012, she and her party swept by-elections, giving them a toehold in the Parliament. 

Three years on, Thein Sein is no longer credible as a reformer. Burma’s government is re-engaged in repression—against religious and ethnic minorities, journalists and activists. It’s also moving on dissenters within its own ranks. On August 13th, Thein Sein used force to remove Shwe Mann, also a former general, as head of their ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in a midnight operation at the party’s headquarters.  Shwe Mann is not an entirely sympathetic figure. He’s a former general, associated with military abuses and questionably wealthy besides. However, in recent years, he has forged a cooperative relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi in the Parliament, where she has tried to amend the military-drafted constitution that bars her from the presidency and entrenches military power.

- The remainder of this post can be read for free at Democracy Road, FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork's blog at World Affairs Journal

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