Towards Democracy or Dictatorship? The Future of Burma

In a break from tradition, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) denied Myanmar’s military junta representation at its annual summit later this month. ASEAN appears to be pressuring Myanmar’s regime, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, to cooperate with neighbors in resolving its almost year-long political crisis. Hlaing’s came to power via military coup in February 2021, and has used violent methods to cement his control and crush opposition.

Myanmar is no stranger to unrest, bloodshed, and dashed expectations. Prior to February’s coup, the military ruled in concert with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who oversaw Burma’s transition to limited democracy following her party’s landslide electoral victory in 2015. Although awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, Suu Kyi participated in a regime that perpetrated human rights abuses against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, which have been widely recognized to constitute a genocide. Some believe Suu Kyi aimed to appease the military by accepting their persecution of the Rohingya. Regardless of her reasons, such support failed to reconcile the military to the democracy-movement she represented. Since February, Suu Kyi has been imprisoned by Hlaing’s junta, and will face trial for alleged election fraud. Hlaing claims the junta will hold free and fair elections after the state of emergency is over, but international observers are skeptical. The junta has killed and imprisoned thousands of protestors, and Covid is ravaging the population. Such turmoil will likely prolong Hlaing’s regime, obstructing progress towards democracy.

Questions and Background

  • Is the pressure currently being exerted by ASEAN sufficient to moderate the conduct of Myanmar’s military regime?  
  • Why were the democratic gains made in Myanmar between 2015-2021 so easily erased by the military? Can the democratic opposition revive and reorganize?
  • What roles are China and India likely to play in influencing future developments in Myanmar? Can the U.S. work with them to reform the military regime? 

Myanmar’s Military Junta Denied a Seat at Asean Summit
Feliz Solomon. The Wall Street Journal. October 16, 2021.

Sanctioning Burma would boost the Chinese Communist Party. Biden should act anyway.
Dan Blumenthal. American Enterprise Institute. February 3, 2021.

Myanmar Is a Failing State—and Could Be a Danger to Its Neighbors
Joshua Kurlantzick. Council on Foreign Relations. September 16, 2021.

Myanmar coup: What is happening and why?
Alice Cuddy. BBC. April 1, 2021.

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