Myanmar lacking in mutual trust

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 3:07am


The reformist government of Myanmar has taken another significant step towards ensuring strong foundations for the country's young democracy. Its abolishing of a 25-year ban on gatherings of more than five people follows a string of laws and amendments that aim to bring development after half a century of military repression. The move dovetails with legislation approved 13 months ago permitting peaceful assembly and protest. As necessary as such measures are for the nation to move confidently forward, though, the process will not be smooth unless the people and authorities set realistic expectations for one another.

President Thein Sein has rightly been praised for ushering in and furthering economic and political liberalisation since taking office at the head of a quasi-democratic government in 2011. The constitution still does not permit a fully democratic system, but the military's opponents now sit in parliament. Strict censorship restrictions have been revoked. Citizens are finally able to have their voices heard.

Western sanctions have been lifted and eased and foreign investment and aid is returning. The poverty and disease that have resulted from corrupt military mismanagement finally have a chance of being eradicated. But reform on such a scale takes time and citizens need to be patient as officials, soldiers and police adapt to the changed conditions. A propensity to turn to protest as a first means of airing grievances has on occasion led to authorities taking a firm stand against demonstrations for fear that they will get out of hand.

Scores of arrests and a lack of consultation over laws and non-transparency in their drafting have raised doubts over the government's democratic principles. The state and society have to make greater effort to build mutual trust. Citizens have to explore the new ways available of communicating concerns to authorities. Officials, in turn, have to better listen and understand the importance of protest in providing feedback on a community's needs, feelings and expectations.