Singapore firms keeping an eye on changes in Yangon

Supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrating outside the National League of Democracy headquarters in Yangon on Nov 9.
Supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrating outside the National League of Democracy headquarters in Yangon on Nov 9. PHOTO: AFP

Business associations and companies in Singapore are hopeful that Myanmar will continue to be an attractive investment destination after an election set to reshape the country's political landscape.

The ruling party in Myanmar conceded defeat on Monday after the country held its first free election in 25 years on Sunday, as the opposition led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi appeared on course to score a landslide victory that could see it forming the next government.

"I don't expect any major volatility. It's now very different from the early days, when things could change drastically," said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.

In 1990, Ms Suu Kyi and her allies won an election but the results were overturned by the military regime.

"Businessmen are essentially apolitical," said Mr Chia Kim Huat, vice-chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's external relations committee, adding the chamber will work with the next Myanmar government.

"We hope that the new government will continue with the economic reforms and welcome foreign investments into Myanmar."

CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun said all eyes would be on whether Myanmar will have a smooth political transition. "If all goes well post-elections, there's no reason why Myanmar would not be the investment destination of choice for Singapore companies."

He noted that Myanmar enjoys one of the fastest growth rates in the region. According to the International Monetary Fund, Myanmar grew at around 8 per cent each year from 2013 to last year, and will grow 8.5 per cent this year.

If stability continues, there will be business opportunities in areas such as infrastructure, property, banking and financial services, Mr Song added.

Mr Chia observed that there are many foreign investors who have held back their planned investments in Myanmar until after the elections.

They want to know who will form the next government, and if the new regime will continue with economic liberalisation policies, before deciding whether to proceed.

"It is important for the new government to work with all stakeholders to provide a secure, stable and conducive business environment."

Mr Melvyn Pun, chief executive of Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic Holdings, was more upbeat.

The orderly election on Sunday marks another milestone in Myanmar's ongoing reform process and he is confident that the next government will drive progress further. "We are optimistic about the future," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore firms keeping an eye on changes in Yangon'. Print Edition | Subscribe