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Myanmar: Long road ahead

world Updated: Nov 20, 2011 02:35 IST

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From dictatorship to quasi democracy in less than a year, the pace of change in Myanmar has stunned even the most cynical observers of the country.

The decision by Aung San Suu Kyi to rejoin the country’s military-backed political system has offered a veneer of legitimacy for the reform efforts of President Thein Sein.

The changes appear real, analysts say: the government’s courting of the opposition, the release of some political prisoners, the rewriting of hundreds of laws, the easing of some restrictions on the news media. But there is no telling if they are permanent.

Thein Sein has a “critical one-year window” to show that this liberalisation can work, said Thant Myint-U, a historian, former United Nations official and one of the leading experts on the country.

“It’s increasingly easy to be very optimistic at this point, to imagine the further release of political prisoners, Aung San Suu Kyi entering Parliament and free and fair elections,” Thant Myint-U said, referring to the 1991 Nobel laureate who was released from house arrest last year.

“It’s far harder to be optimistic about the economy. There’s no proper judicial system. There’s no proper banking system, no system to help finance economic growth, where businesses can go get a loan.”

US President Barack Obama, in Bali, Indonesia, attending a summit meeting of Pacific Rim countries, said Friday that “of course there’s far more to be done” in Myanmar. “For decades Americans have been deeply concerned about the denial of basic human rights for the Burmese people,” Obama said.

Political harmony in the country may to some degree now depend on whether the détente between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military-backed government lasts. Above all, perhaps, the country faces huge challenges in fixing its economy, especially in the realm of banking and finance. - NYT