Which prefers to be called Miyanmar, and because it's a country ruled by bullies, and because we have become scaredy-cat little softies in the west, we have caved in and accepted the name, as we have accepted the change of Peking to Bei-Jing by the bullies there. Germany has also, at times, been a country ruled by bullies, but we do not call it Deutschland, any more than we English-speakers now call the capital of France Paree, Norway Norge, Denmark Danmark or Sweden Sverige.
Burma is one of the three poorest nations in the world, with a minimal health care system, no economic progress since a military coup in 1962, and, until 2011 anyway, one of the worst human rights records in the world. Human trafficking, child labour, and lack of basic freedoms were commonplace. Elections in 1990 were ignored and Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the winning party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), spent the next twenty years under house arrest charged to become (as opposed to “charged with becoming”) the world’s most famous banned politician now that Nelson Mandela was free from Robben Island. The NLD boycotted the 2010 elections, which were based on the revised constitution of 2008, and which reserved 25% of seats in both the lower and upper house for the military, guaranteeing the military the cabinet posts of border affairs, interior and defense. Aung San Suu Kyi was also barred from standing, as she is in the 2015 elections about to take place, and President Thein Sein, another general pretending to be a civilian president, remained in office. Reforms appear now to have started, and the naïve leaders of the US have already visited and hosted the President, and joined the EU in lifting sanctions, much as they have been gulled by Iran over its nuclear programme. Meanwhile Karen, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, Rohingya, Chin, Kachin and other ethnic groups continue to be both oppressed, repressed and suppressed, and the Moslem groups in particular have been subjected to extreme violence. Given that Burma is the world's largest exporter of teak, one of the world’s major sources of jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires, and has substantial offshore oil and gas deposits, it is remarkable indeed how poor the people are, how stagnant the economy, how rich the leaders of the junta, and how far the heroin-smuggling industry appears to be under the administration of the army.
History and the extraordinary Buddhist temples that are literally everywhere give Burma some marks for, but the remainder negates them, and then some. Let us hope this page will need an update, and a mark increase, after the 2015 elections.
Update: November 15th 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has been announced as winning 80% of the 75% of Parliamentary seats which are not reserved for the military, which gives the NLD an active majority, with the right to elect both the Speaker and the President; and that President Thein Sein has stated, and the military has echoed him, that the result of the election will be respected.
Transition, then, from military rule to civilian rule. We shall have to wait and see, but there is little doubt that, if the new government pushes for too much reform too quickly, and especially if it looks to create a new constitution which removes the military from Parliament and their Cabinet positions, another coup will not be far behind.
Transition, then, from despotism to democracy. That, alas, will not be the case, whatever the military decides. Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the Presidency, because of an absurd constitutional law that precludes her because her children are foreign, but she has announced that she intends to rule the country anyway, a prediction of despotism if ever there was one. And then we have to ask why hundreds of thousands of people were excluded from voting, especially the minority Muslim Rohingya, who are unlikely to have voted either for the NLD or for President Thein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party. How strange that the only areas of the country in which no voting at all was possible, happened to be those seven areas in which ethnic conflict is rife.
Marks For: 2
Marks Against: dozens
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