There are some seminal changes taking
place in Myanmar that needs attention amidst the news of India
wining the world cricket world, tsunami cum quake in Japan, and
civilized world is hell bent to make Libya, another Afghanistan nay
Among such hyperboles the news that
Myanmar's military strongman General Than Shwe who ruled for almost
two decades has stepped down from his post has not raised the
cockles of the opinion makers of the world.
According to reports, the Seventy-eight year old Senior General has
disbanded the junta and its organ the State Peace and Development
Council and handed over the power to the civilian government that
was elected last year in the controversial election.
Even though some may feel that General Than Shwe will continue to
play a significant role in the country's governance as army
hierarchy has retained a firm grip on power, it’s a change in
Myanmar that is obvious and the discourse of politics may be the
same in that resource-rich country.
According to reports, Myanmar’s Parliament met from March 9 to March
23 and discussed a whole range of issues telling the state of affair
in that country and giving an impression that a modicum of
democratic apparatus is being put in place after almost five decades
of military rule.
The deliberations in the Parliament disclosed some very non
consequential facts such as the proportion of Chin nationals
employed at the 15 Electrical Engineers’ Offices in the Chin State.
The answer by the Muftis was 177 out of 197 or 89.85 percent. Along
with the answer came the revelation that the Chin State, with a
population in excess of 500,000, has a total electricity generation
capacity of 3 megawatts, enough for less than one in 10 people to
use a 60-watt light bulb.
Similarly there was a question on the number of “local” teachers
employed at Basic Education High Schools in Buthidaung Township. The
answer was 50 out of 51, and the non-local being the wife of a
“service personnel assigned to the region.” It reveals something
that was supposedly to be hiding.
In all, 46 questions and 17 proposals were submitted in the lower
house, while 33 questions and 16 proposals were submitted in the
upper house. Many of these have focused on regional infrastructure,
introduction of compulsory military service, prevalence of tax
evasion, lack of availability of loans for small-to-medium
enterprises, manipulation of commodity prices, excessive cost of
mobile phones, low internet connectivity, sale of fuel onto the
black market, prevalence of gambling, conducting of a national
census, cost of middle and high school education and the raising of
pensions and government salaries.
The fact that such details are reported by the “New Light of
Myanmar,” the only source for the goings on in Parliament reflects
the level of accountability, shown by the military backed political
party and such the military per se that now willing for a change as
so far they had never considered to take into account the
aspirations of the people while ruling the country with an iron
The Parliamentary debate even though confined to fifteen minutes has
brought some changes from the past. The information provided by the
Junta sanctioned reports is useful in determining the actual
situation in Myanmar. The fact that they can be useful to push for
more substantial reforms is something path breaking.
Another redeeming feature of the Parliament functioning in Myanmar
is that there is a sense of optimism and satisfaction in the
opposition camp that a parliamentary democracy with its entire
pitfall is at work in their country. They are confident that they
have at least established a rapport with certain representatives in
the USDP, the ruling party, a prospect that was unthinkable under
the SPDC regime.
However, all is not hunky-dory as one may sound. Many questions and
proposals by MPs have not even made it to the Parliament sessions.
Questions and proposals have to be submitted to the speakers’ office
10 and 15 days in advance. MPs face jail for revealing the contents
of Parliamentary discussions and no reporters are allowed into the
The state media presented only a part of what’s going on in
Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw. Much of the discussion has apparently
been censored from media reports, and questions from MPs sometimes
The other lows are none of the issues that came up for discussion
during the election campaign were raised in the Parliament session.
As such, there remained little interest in general public about the
parliamentary debate. The fact that opposition parties too have
failed to keep the momentum going explaining to the public exactly
who they are, and have faded into the background is the dark spot in
the emerging silver linings in Myanmar’s tryst with democracy.
The irony is that the discussion in both mainstream and exile media
about the Parliamentary sessions has been minimal. Most
international media coverage of Myanmar had the hackneyed line about
issues of economic sanctions and the role of the NLD. They more keen
to paint the ‘RAMBO -4’ image of the deteriorating conditions inside
that country than making efforts to realize the values of the
parliamentary system and the long term benefits that may be in
Anyway, the big question is will Myanmar’s new bicameral Parliament
going to bring any rapid changes in that country. The answer is
simple – very unlikely because the aims of the USDP and the military
rulers are quite divergent. The interesting fact however is, the
situation in Myanmar is quite different in 2011 then what it was in
Just as the interests of the former generals in Parliament are
different from the opposition MPs; the new guards are unlikely to be
the same as those who have remained behind the military uniform for
Syed Ali Mujtaba
is a journalist based in Chennai.
He can be contacted at email@example.com