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The View From Asia

Will Myanmar be a game changer in the region?

A democratically elected government is now in power, but how will it rule? Analysts examine its challenges, the transition process and the opportunities. Here are some views in the region:

NLD-led Myanmar's upcoming challenges

Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation, Thailand

It is clear the country's new President Htin Kyaw has to manage relations with the military, known as the Tatmadaw, carefully.

Three meetings between the National League for Democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing saw both agreements and differences emerge.

From now on, they must learn to co-exist with one another.

During the transition negotiations, four outstanding issues were discussed.

First, it was all about the Constitution and proposed amendments by the NLD leader.

Both sides agreed that Article 59(f) in the 2008 Constitution, which prevents Ms Suu Kyi from becoming president, should not be touched.

Second, efforts to eradicate the 25 per cent of parliamentary seats controlled by the Tatmadaw is now placed under the rug.

Third, the ongoing peace process. Ms Suu Kyi has now given full support to the ceasefire efforts.


Mr Htin Kyaw at a Parliament session in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Monday. The new President will have to manage relations with the military, known as the Tatmadaw, carefully. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

As far as the Tatmadaw is concerned, whatever deals she struck with armed ethnic groups will be closely watched, especially those along the Myanmar-China border.

One contentious issue will be the proposed formation by ethnic groups of a federal army, which the Tatmadaw has repeatedly turned down.

The final issue was the foreign policy towards neighbouring countries, which the outgoing government wanted to impart to the NLD-led government.

During the transitional dialogue, Myanmar's relations with China and Asean were raised.

For nearly five decades, China has been the country's key economic supporter.

Under the previous government, Myanmar-China relations were scrutinised and several bilateral projects reconsidered - most notably, the multi-billion-dollar Myitsone Dam in Kachin state, which was halted in November 2012.

Since 2014, Myanmar has become a game changer in the region's politics, especially in Asean, which it joined in 1997. 

Naypyitaw (the capital) took nearly seven years of preparation to be a successful chair in 2014, immediately raising its regional profile.

Unfortunately, Myanmar's ties with Asean have neither been discussed nor picked up by  Ms Suu Kyi or any of her lieutenants.

Asean is concerned that her government will focus solely on domestic development and fail to follow up on integrative efforts as part of the Asean Community launched at the end of last year.


Myanmar's connectivity, revolution, democratisation

Julia Suryakusuma
The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

For me, Myanmar is the land of The Lady - the title of the Luc Besson film about the extraordinary Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy icon who is sometimes referred to as Myanmar's Nelson Mandela.

I envy the Myanmarese for having Ms Suu Kyi. Indonesia has never had a figure like her. Ms Suu Kyi's 15-year house arrest symbolised the oppression the people of her country suffered. 

At the same time, her tenacity, commitment, sacrifice, vision and devotion also symbolised the people's hope for freedom and democracy. 

My visit (in February) almost coincided with a historic moment: the handover of power from the military to Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party in early March.

On March 15, Ms Suu Kyi's confidant Htin Kyaw was elected Myanmar's new president. 

It was understood from the start that he was going to be a proxy president, as Ms Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from running for the country's highest office.

Credit for opening up the democratic space, however, has to be given to Mr Thein Sein, a former army general who has been Myanmar's president since 2011. It was he who led the process of reform in Myanmar, enabling the transition to civilian rule. Don't get too starry-eyed though! The military still holds 25 per cent of seats in Parliament. And as history attests, one can never totally trust the military. 

But let's not start out with pessimism. Let's instead ask, how does a formerly Starbucks-free nation (until 2013), living in "darkness" for almost half a century, deal with seeing the light again? It's like Sharonda Phenix of St Louis, a woman who was blind for 30 years and was able to see after receiving a cornea transplant. 

The connectivity revolution that started around 2010 is like Ms Sharonda's cornea transplant and runs parallel with the political revolution under way in Myanmar.

What is interesting about Myanmar is the speed at which this has happened. Off the grid for decades, the country is now catching up fast. According to Mr David Madden, founder and director of Phandeeyar: Myanmar Innovation Lab, 20 years of consumer Internet is being built at the same time. "There are start-ups building ride-sharing apps and anonymous social messaging apps. Then there's everything in between: education apps, online bookstores, ticketing and more." 

This obviously will have implications on Myanmar's democratisation.


Change the contours of Bangladesh- Myanmar ties 

Ashfaqur Rahman
The Daily Star, Bangladesh

It is important for Bangladesh to note that the autocratic and reclusive country (of Myanmar) is soon to be liberal and democratic, with immense possibilities for growth and trade partnerships.

In the run-up to the imminent transformation, Bangladesh should strive to create a more meaningful relationship with Myanmar. We should look to reap the benefits of setting up cross-border businesses. We should also persuade Myanmar to allow cross-border transit to China. The other aspect that needs close attention now is resolving the Rohingya issue. We must highlight how resolving the issue would ensure regional peace and economic integration.

As for economic cooperation, Bangladesh ought to convince the central government in Myanmar to draw up plans to set up free trade zones along both borders in order to access each other's markets as well as the international markets. The western part of Myanmar is rich in raw materials and minerals.

With Bangladesh's trained manpower in select industries and Myanmar's raw materials, a great manufacturing hub can be created for exports and services.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see www.asianewsnet.network

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'TheViewFromAsia NLD-led Myanmar's upcoming challenges Myanmar's connectivity, revolution, democratisation Change the contours of Bangladesh- Myanmar ties Will Myanmar be a game changer in the region?'. Print Edition | Subscribe