Is Myanmar edging towards democracy?

There have been acclaimed signs of movement towards democracy in Myanmar. But racial tensions will present familiar challenges for any new non-military leadership

According to the BBC The head of the UK’s armed forces, General Sir David Richards, is visiting Burma [June 2013] to try to build ties with the country’s powerful military. He also met President Thein Sein (a former General) and leaders of the opposition including Aung San Suu Kyi for ‘serious talks’ on support short of lifting UN sanctions.

Steps to democracy

The release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and her swearing into Parliament [2012] were given global significance as steps in Myanmar towards democracy.

Under Imperial rule, Burma was treated as an outpost of the British Empire. Regional rule was operated from India, which still shows considerable interest in its Commonwealth partner.

Racial tensions

However, the country still faces the challenges of racial tensions as complex and arguably as intractable as those in The Middle East. The Indian Express outlines the tensions that have bubbled over in Malaysia.

Malaysian police said today they had detained more than 900 Myanmar nationals in a security sweep after at least two were killed last week in clashes believed to be linked to sectarian violence back home.
The two dead were likely to have been Myanmar Buddhists.. and the attacks were [reported as] believed to be the result of violence in Myanmar.
Deadly sectarian strife pitting Myanmar’s majority Buddhists against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority has flared since last year, in the country’s western state of Rakhine.
Myanmar called on Malaysia to take action against those responsible for the attacks and protect Myanmar citizens. U Maung Hla, who heads the Burma Refugee Organisation in Malaysia, said violence between exiled Myanmar communities here was not uncommon and was “sometimes due to religion.” The Rohingya have been described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. About 800,000 are estimated to live in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship, rendering them stateless.

The long walk

The democratic vision is that Aung San Suu Kyi will lead her country in the fashion of a 21st century Mandela or Gandhi (the two leaders she most publically admires). It is likely to be a long walk to freedom.

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