On 3-5 March, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Asian Political and International Studies Association (APISA) are organising a conference on New Authoritarianism in Asia at Ewha Womans University, South Korea. I will be speaking on “How Authoritarianism is Embedded in Law and Politics in Myanmar“.
Abstract: Myanmar is the most recent country in the region to have made significant gains in terms of its shift from complete authoritarian rule. Yet these reforms are inevitably limited by the 2008 Constitution that enshrines a permanent role for the military in governance, including as unelected members of parliament at the national and regional level. The first stage of this transition (2011-2015) under the leadership of President Thein Sein brought unprecedented changes for the country. Among these include the release of many political prisoners, relaxation of media regulations, greater freedom of association, a vigorous bicameral national parliament, a new Constitutional Tribunal and National Human Rights Commission, and a major peace process initiative. Yet it also brought violence, conflict and great uncertainty for minority groups such as Muslims, particularly those in Rakhine State. The lead up to the national elections in 2015 saw the government use the rhetoric of national security and the protection of Buddhism to restrict the right to vote, and effectively deny a major humanitarian and regional displacement crisis. As the National League for Democracy takes office in 2016, this will lead to radically different political dynamics over the next five years, or will it? This paper focuses on the extent to which Myanmar’s political and legal system mandating quasi-military rule will constrain its newly-elected, pro-democracy members of parliament, drawing on the literature in political science and law on authoritarian regimes. Given that the 2008 Constitution establishes a highly centralized system of governance with a large amount of power in the hands of the President, this raises concerns about whether the National League for Democracy can actually govern democratically.