Myanmar: Smokin’ Burmese growth potential

(From International Business Times)

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From a country till recently behind the military’s iron curtain to one predicted to be among the world’s fastest growing economies, Myanmar has seen its fortunes rise and fall. Poised for Sunday’s (8 November) elections coming after 25 years, here are some insights into this Asian nation.

Myanmar, once known as Burma, was a fertile land called Asia’s rice bowl. The country is rich in natural resources like rubies, jade, gas and oil and teak. Burma wood has its votaries even today. However, half a century of rule under the military saw the country plunge into poverty and isolated from the rest of the world.

While the nation’s fortunes took a plunge in the last few decades, things have improved since the end of military rule in 2011. The GDP has been growing at an average of 7% a year and the World Bank has predicted that Myanmar will become the world’s fourth fastest-growing economy by 2017.

The Burmese capital Yangon, known to the outside world as Rangoon, was one of the most fashionable cities in Asia. Some old Bollywood song numbers refer to the city as one of the sought after destinations of the time.

Yangon was home to picturesque boulevards and British colonial buildings which bore the brunt of military rule and were soon run down. Sarong is still a popular dress worn by both men and women but with tradition has also come the advance of technology. Youth glued to smartphones and fast food chains like KFC cropping up everywhere are a sign of this. Mobile phone and internet penetration remains low outside major cities but is changing fast. In rural remote regions, electricity is still a dream, reports AFP.

The country which is predominantly Buddhist, boasts more than 100 ethnic groups. The plight of the Rohingya Muslims has attracted global attention while leaders of Myanmar’s political parties refer to it as a minor problem blown up by the international media. Muslims have been reported to be persecuted by some sections of the radical Buddhist monks.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

How much of all that will change depends on the outcome of Sunday’s elections. Will the 70-year-old Nobel Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero Aung San, be able to pull off an outright victory polling 67% of the votes required to rule?

President Thein Sien’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) with military backing will be a major contender against Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, despite her popular mass appeal. Will there be a repeat of the 1990 scenario when the poll results favouring her party were not accepted by the military that placed her under house arrest for 15 years? With about 11,000 local and international monitors overseeing the 40,000 polling stations, it is hoped that the polls will be free and fair.

Around 30 million people will be voting this Sunday. More than 6,000 candidates are in the fray for seats in the country’s parliament, a quarter of which are reserved for the military. Under a constitution framed by the generals, they have the power to appoint key security ministers and the heads of the most important government agencies. Attempts to amend the constitution earlier this year failed.



Categories: Asia Unhedged, Southeast Asia

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