Assessing Burma/Myanmar’s New Government

Challenges and Opportunities for European Policy Responses
19 April 2012
Policy briefing

Burma is in the midst of its most important period of political transition in over two decades. TNI and BCN hosted a conference to look at the challenges and opportunities in five key areas: politics, ethnic relations, the economy, social and humanitarian affairs, and the international landscape.

A two-day conference under Chatham House rule was organized on 22-23 February in Amsterdam by BCN-TNI to assess ongoing social and political changes in Burma/Myanmar under the government of President Thein Sein. Sixty people at­tended, including representatives of Bur­mese civil society as well as international non-governmental organisations, diplo­mats and academics.

Burma/Myanmar is in the midst of its most important period of political transition in over two decades. Previous times of government change since independence have led to conflict and division rather than inclusion and national progress. Thus the conference focused on developments in five key areas – politics, ethnic relations, the economy, social and humanitarian affairs, and the international landscape – in order to consider the challenges and opportunities that present changes bring.

Analysis during the conference reflected the rapid speed of recent change, welcom- ing the potential that this provides for rec- onciliation and addressing long-neglected needs. But progress also requires realism and the inclusion of all citizens to foster stability and national advancement. The rapprochement between the government and National League for Democracy, promised economic change and recent spread of ethnic ceasefires are providing grounds for optimism that Burma/Myan- mar could be embarking on a road to democratisation and reform. Western governments are keen to support such processes. But the social and political landscape is uneven, with differences be- tween Yangon, for example, and the rest of the country. Burma/Myanmar is at the beginning of a new time of socio-political change – not at an end. It is thus essential that domestic and international policies are reflective of realities and support inclusive reform. The divisions and state failures of the past must not be repeated.

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