Burma. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, recently released from house arrest, had the Internet revoked in his home in January. Otherwise, at the beginning of the year, there was no indication that Burma would become a less authoritarian state, even though the country would switch to civilian rule after nearly half a century under military junta. The newly elected parliament was opened in the capital Naypyidaw under the customary secrecy, the recently retired General Thein Sein – the last prime minister in the military regime – was appointed president and a government almost entirely made up of former military.
According to Countryaah official site, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD), which boycotted the 2010 parliamentary elections, was rejected by the Supreme Court on its appeal that it was declared dissolved.
In the spring, the military junta, which has ruled the country since 1988, formally resigned and its leader Than Shwe left the country’s military power. The EU eased some of its sanctions and lifted, among other things, the travel ban for the Burmese Foreign Minister in order to maintain a dialogue. The regime’s attitude to the extra-parliamentary opposition was still tough. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD were threatened with legal action if they continued to work politically. The Ministry of the Interior pointed out that it was a criminal offense by the party to have offices, hold meetings and make public statements.
Just a few days later, however, Aung San Suu Kyi was able to travel to the temple town of Pagan in central Burma and be met by cheering crowds without the regime intervening. And shortly thereafter, she held her first meeting after the release with Labor Minister Aung Kyi, her special contact in the government.
In August, the opposition leader was allowed to hold her first political meeting outside Rangoon and was then invited to the capital, where she got to meet the new president. She described the meeting as “encouraging”. President Thein Sein said a few days later that the government was ready to start working with the international community.
Then the turnaround went fast. In September, a human rights commission was set up and a large Chinese-funded dam construction in the north, which would have produced electricity for export to China, was shot in the future after being criticized for serious environmental consequences. Many previously blocked Internet pages were opened, foreign journalists were able to obtain work visas, the press censorship was eased and the head of the censorship authority thought that the media should be released completely – “under responsibility”. For the first time in many years, the newspapers were able to publish photos of Aung San Suu Kyi and her portraits could be made public.
Following consultations with the UN Labor Organization, the Parliament adopted a law that, for the first time since 1962, allows free trade unions and gives them the right to strike. It was also allowed to demonstrate under peaceful forms. The law that stipulated that punished persons must not belong to a political party was abolished. The law was considered specially written to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from running for election. Now NLD was able to re-register as a party and Aung San Suu Kyi announced that she and the party would run for election elections which were announced until April 1, 2012.
A few hundred political prisoners were released in the fall, but an unknown number of people – estimated at between 600 and 1,000 – were still being held in prison for political reasons. The United States rewarded the reforms in December by sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Burma, where she promised better relations if progress continues. Not in over half a century had such an esteemed American visited the country. Swedish Deputy Minister Gunilla Carlsson visited Burma the days before Clinton, probably the first official Swedish ministerial meeting in the country.
In general, however, the world’s reactions to the changes were pending. Were the Burmese leaders really interested in democracy?
The most common assessment was that the government wanted to get rid of the pariah stamp and be accepted by the outside world in order to strengthen and broaden the country’s economy. An early hint of this was a distinctly economic approach to India in the fall.
One sign that the tactics seemed to work was that the Southeast Asian cooperation organization ASEAN decided to give Burma the presidency in 2014. Previously, Burma’s bad reputation had forced the country to refrain from leading the organization in 2006.