How to Sustain Burma's Path Towards Democracy: The Need for Institutional Reform

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Article at a glance

  • Burma’s transition to democracy will prove unsustainable without substantive changes to the country’s political, administrative, and economic institutions.
  • Economic growth must be widespread and economic opportunities arise for more than the well-connected few if democracy is to succeed in Burma.
  • The Burmese government and its partners in the international development community must prioritize the development of durable, reliable and politically independent institutions.

In his speech at the July United States- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Business Forum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, Burma President U Thein Sein explained that Burma “has embarked on a democratic path” and is “moving toward a new democratic era.” He went on to outline the reform efforts his country is presently undertaking, efforts that give reason for optimism following April’s dramatic electoral victories of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy.

In addition to promises of regular and free elections, increased media freedom, and constructive engagement with leaders of ethnic minorities, President Thein Sein announced plans “to transform [Burma’s] centralized economy into a market-oriented economy.” At this same event, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that President Thein Sein is a leader “who has moved his country such a long distance in such a short period of time.”

Recent events and statements from the country’s leaders do indeed give reason for optimism that Burma will continue these efforts to introduce democratic governance and genuine economic freedom. However, Burma’s transition to democracy will prove unsustainable without substantive changes to the country’s political, administrative, and economic institutions.

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