Myanmar Brett trottier & Alex Venezia

Basic Background Information

  • Population = 52,400,000
  • Capital = Nay Pyi Taw
  • Dominant Religion = Theravada Buddhism
  • GDP per Capita = U.S. $1,161
  • Partly Free
  • Industry: Agricultural processing; knit and woven apparel; wood and wood products; copper, tin, tungsten, iron, gems, jade
  • Agriculture: Rice, pulses, beans, sesame; hardwood (teak); fish
  • Exports: Gas, wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice
  • (Myanmar Flag featured in the background)


Myanmar has evolved much and has come a long way since their use as a British colony from 1824-1948. The Burmese people claimed their independence in 1948, and the Burmese government was a government based on representation for the people. A parliamentary system was put in place to ensure that the people of Burma would be represented justly. However, this only lasted until a military coup led by General Ne Win took hold of the country in 1962. The military would keep this foothold in the government for years and years to come, regardless of changes in government structure or political parties in power. Ne Win’s authoritarian regime did not fair so well by 1988.

Food shortages lead to student protests, and protests led to military crackdowns which resulted in the death of thousands of progressive college students. This helped Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the country’s most favored government leaders, rise to prominence as the head of the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party to General Ne Win. Ne Win became the authoritarian leader, as well as the head of his party until he resigned in 1988. This opened the floodgates for the pro-democratic movement which won parliamentary seats by a large majority in 1990.

Out of fear of a mass people power movement and the empowerment of Daw Aung San, the authoritarian government placed the NLD leader (Daw Aung San) under house arrest for 15 years. 392 of 485 seats were won in favor of the pro-democratic NLD, but the military-run government ignored the outcome and instead turned to the imprisonment and exile of more NLD party leaders and officials. For a little over a decade the country has been mainly under the thumb of military rule.

By 2010, the military decided to allow elections for a constitutional referendum due to the unrest and massive protests across the country. Dismal economic structure and the end of fossil fuel subsidizing led to a decisive for more economic and political reform. The military government dissolved in 2011 leading to the current steps taken towards a more democratic government structure.

Recently in 2016, Myanmar had their first democratically elected official. Although, there is question about the legitimacy of the free and “fair” election that took place. The peaceful transition to power has been met with military involvement. Before the election, legislation was passed through Myanmar’s Parliament specifically to keep out Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been the face of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and the main opposition to military rule. She now claims that she will run the country with or without the cooperation of the elected government. According to BBC, the military still retains a decent amount of power within the executive and legislative branch, and essentially the overall government.

Treatment of the Rohingya

. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group from the northern Rakhine State in western Burma. The government has isolated and demonized the 1.3 million Rohingya in Myanmar and claims that all Rohingya people are illegal immigrants, thus allowing the government to easily deport them. They are limited in their rights to marry, have children, work, obtain healthcare and go to school. The Myanmar government refuses to even acknowledge their existence with the President Thein Sein having declared “There are no Rohingya” in Burma and they were denied recognition in the 2014 census.

"Oma Salema, 12, held her undernourished brother Ayub Khan, 1, at a camp for Rohingya in Sittwe, Myanmar. Some 140,000 Rohingya live here in rows of flimsy bamboo huts without electricity. Raw sewage flows through open concrete drains, and children are commonly undernourished" (Tomas Munita)

These people have suffered the worst discrimination imaginable including “arbitrary detention, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as violations of humanitarian law (UTEG 1).” The United States has spoken out against his violence and imposed fierce sanctions against the government as a response. The United Nations has called it a series of human rights violations, listing the Rohingya as one of the most oppressed people on Earth.

"Buddhist citizens of Myanmar living in Thailand hold anti-Rohingya banners as they gather outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok" (Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters)

" They beat up my husband in front of me and my seven children. We cried and pleaded with them, but they didn't listen to us. I passed out, but when I regained consciousness, he was gone."

“[The area] was full of soldiers and Border Guard Police; I couldn’t distinguish who was which because all of them were wearing dark green raincoats,” she says. “They were dragging that man, but he could not walk, so they just shot him right there, in front of me. They just left him there.”

In the aftermath of the attack, the military launched a “clearance operation” in northern Rakhine. As many as 600 Rohingya have since been arrested, six of them having died in custody, according to the government; several villages have been burned to the ground and up to 1,000 Rohingya may have been killed, according to the UN. More than 70,000 have fled to Bangladesh.

These military crackdowns have been severe, and government uses any excuse to limit the Rohingya even further. A top official in Myanmar has compared an attack last year by Muslim militants that killed nine police officers and sparked a brutal army crackdown to America's experience on September 11. "This is like 9/11 in America, we were targeted and attacked in a huge way," Pe Myint said.

Political Strain and Corruption

The result of this horrendous problem stems from the poor political structure that Myanmar has had for decades. A country controlled by military leaders and elitists leaves little power for the people if those who influence the country's decision do not lead by example when it comes to morals. Pro-democratic sentiment has been building in the state since 2008, and their best bet for a more democratic government would be to back Aung San Suu Kyi. However, in the most recent election Aung San Suu Kyi parliament drafted new legislation to keep her out of Myanmar's first free and "fair" election.

Robbing the people of the hope of a democratic government, corruption is not a new trend in the country of Myanmar. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Myanmar is one of the most corrupt countries among all sovereign states. This is evident based on how security forces ignore, and even sometimes aid, in the brutal killing of muslim citizens.

Moving Forward

Today the country is plagued by corruption, military involvement in the government, rebel groups, and ethnic cleansing. That is a long laundry list of problems to solve in the near future, and the refusal of the government to acknowledge the plight of the Rohingya or accept any help proves that they are no obvious solutions to this complex issue. The only way to do this is to legitimize the government and unify a large ethnic variety of people. The best solution that the Myanmar government can make to better the state's current status would be to unite the people by backing a more western style democratic political structure. A western style democracy would help secure minority rights for the Rohingya and would leave more power for the people, with the help of political system based on checks and balances.

(Disclaimer: The above video is dated from 2014, but still yields relevant data to today's current problems.)


F., J. "Why Myanmar's Path to Democracy Will Be Bumpy." The Economist. The Economist

Newspaper, 03 Apr. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Gilley, Bruce. The Nature of Asian Politics. New York: Cambridge UP, 2014. Print.

Lewis, Simon. "5 Challenges Facing Burma's New Civilian Government." Time. Time, 31 Mar.

2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Moe, Wai, and Mike Ives. "Attacks by Rebels in Myanmar Leave Dozens Dead." The New York

Times. The New York Times, 07 Mar. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

"Myanmar Country Profile." BBC News. BBC, 02 Dec. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Xu, Beina, and Eleanor Albert. "Understanding Myanmar."

Council on Foreign Relations.Council on Foreign Relations, 25 May 2016. Web. 28

Apr. 2017


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