Untie the knot

Writer: 
Nay Tun Naing

(1)

When I watched the movie ‘Selma’ which was nominated for several Oscar and Golden Globe Awards, my favorite scene was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking to President Johnson.

When King came to meet him, the president explained poverty eradication projects for the African-Americans.

King replied that it is the ‘Right to Vote’ that they need more than poverty eradication and education projects; that it would allow them to choose their own representatives; that it could lead to choosing judges and juries representing the African-American society; that those representatives can protect the interest of the colored people; that they can protect their society from killings, oppressions and losing their own rights; that the ‘Right to Vote’ is very important for the African-Americans; and that the most important thing for them is to be able to choose their own representatives.

Right now, the root cause of all the problems in Myanmar is that the country has, for over 50 years, lost the right to choose a government representing the people.

The root cause of all the protests, arrests, oppressions and poverty gap is the incapability of choosing the government and the “three pillars” (Administrative, Judiciary, and Legislative) for 50 years.

We need to be able to choose a government, a parliament and judges that largely represent the public. What is important is that “three pillars” are made up of people that represent us—the public—and protect us and our interests.

(2)

 Now that the 2015 election is four or five months away, Myanmar’s politic is in limbo.

The 2008 constitution is not amended and the six-party talks are not resumed. And there is still no strong promise among President Thein Sein, Parliament Spokesperson Thura U Shwe Mann, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for post-2015 era. The situations lead to the political deadlock.

At this point, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be president unless the 2008 constitution is amended.

The ruling USDP party said they will not nominate two presidential candidates, which means either President Thein Sein or Thura U Shwe Mann will be a candidate. By looking at the implications of USDP central executive committee members including the party’s advisor U Aung Thaung, they intend to overlook the current president.

However, it is unlikely that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who will retire in 2016, enters the election. Larry Jagan wrote in May 16 issue of the Bangkok Post that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing would resign from the current position to enter into politics.

It is peculiar that Larry resurfaced after a long while. He might have received some information from Myanmar Peace Center, President Office or USDP.

After his article, stories emerged stating high ranking military officials will resign to enter the election through USDP.

CEC members of USDP declined the rumors. If the Senior General want to enter into politics, he can easily be a presidential candidate nominated by the military. He does not need to resign from his position to enter the election.

On May 20 before the USDP CEC meeting, the Commander-in-Chief met Mr. Chen Fengxiang, Minister of the International Department of the Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The Senior General told Mr. Chen that the military and USDP has a good relationship because the military backed forming USDP, they shared the same basic principles, and they have the same view on implementing national politics. It can be considered that the military will not object USDP’s choices.

(3)

In June 1 issue of Tomorrow news journal, the story ‘The current President U Thein Sein likely to be the candidate nominated by the military’ was featured. They claimed to be informed by a source from the military.

The story also said that Senior General Minn Aung Hlaing has not decided if he will participate in the election. That was a response to Larry Jagan’s article.

Tomorrow journal has close ties with graduates from 25th batch of the Defense Services Academy, some of whom are close to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Some of the prominent members of 25th batch held high ranking positions in the military and government.

Just like the 22nd batch before it, 25th batch now holds many top positions.

Tomorrow journal published stories such as ‘18 high ranking military officials including Chief of Staffs (Army) and Chief of Staffs (Air Force) to retire to enter into politics’ and ’64 members of the current government to enter the elections’.

Therefore, it could also be right that the military choose President Thein Sein as presidential candidate. If that is the case, U Thein Sein is the likely candidate to become president.

There may be deals between U Thein Sein and Gen. Minn Aung Hlaing. That is related to extending the service years of military personnel. If the regulation is amended, those who has to retire in 2016 such as Gen. Minn Aung Hlaing will be in service until 2018 or 2019.

(4)

While he has lesser public support, being nominated as presidential candidate by the military—according to the rumors—will give U Thein Sein upper hand.

Even though there are four possible candidates, only one among President Thein Sein, Thura U Shwe Mann and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing will become a candidate. On the other hand, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or someone she support would become another candidate. Therefore, there are only two candidates with two sides. On the USDP side, U Thein Sein is the most likely one.

The reason is the candidate chosen by the military has more chance to become president. However, that depends on if U Thein Sein want to be reelected.

Even though U Thein Sein currently is the most likely candidate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or someone she support is also a possible winner. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party can win between 260 to 300 places while 333 places are needed to form a government. Therefore, she can ally with someone else and the one she support can become president.

Thus, she become a vital player in choosing president. No one can be president without her blessing. When looking if the nominee from the military can be president, it is possible to become vice-president but it is almost impossible to win 167 seats to be president. The reason is USDP and its ally will hold the 167 seats.

Without considering the limit imposed by the constitution, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the favorite candidate. The least favorite is Thura U Shwe Mann. If Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cooperates with U Thein Sein, it will be Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or U Thein Sein to become president.

At this point, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will not choose to support Thura U Shwe Mann unless there are negotiations. If that is the case, the voters and parties will have only two options: support military backed U Thein Sein or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Supporting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi means voting for NLD and its allies. Opposing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is simply supporting U Thein Sein.

(5)

We cannot surely say that the ruling government’s reform efforts are successful. There are three reasons for the failure—mismanagement, corruption and nepotism.

These three points pose a barrier to the success of its reform process. Everyone expects that the situation will continue like that.

Talking about mismanagement, the Cooperatives Ministry is one example. That ministry is running unsuccessfully. It however sought foreign loans from the Export-Import Bank of China—US$ 100 million in 2013, US$ 300 million in 2015 at an interest rate of 4.5 percent. When the loans were sought, US$ 1 was equivalent to Ks 980 or 1,000. Now, US$ 1 is worth about Ks 1,200.

Look at the US$ 100 million loaned from China in 2013. The money went to Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank. According to the exchange rate at that time, only more than Ks 97 billion could be withdrawn from the bank. But the debt has to be paid with US dollars. Now, the value of US$ 1 has reached 1,173 in Myanmar kyats. So US$ 100 million is equivalent to Ks 117 billion. The state therefore will lose about Ks 20 billion.  

For over US$ 400 million, we will lose around Ks 80 billion. Moreover, an annual interest of US$ 18 million has to be paid. Those calculations are made in our estimation.

Why did the government get loans from China at an interest rate of 4.5 percent, instead of seeking them from other countries that will charge an interest rate of about 1 or 2 percent? The government gave out loans to local farmers at an interest of rate of 1.5 percent. But the farmers could not pay their debts. At least 20 percent of the debtors reportedly could not pay their debts. When their regions were in adverse weather conditions, up to 50 percent of them could not pay their debts.   

The Cooperatives Ministry however continues to give loans to local farmers without calculating any losses. The government would find it difficult to explain if the people accused them of using those loans for canvassing for votes in election.

Two other examples are the tenders invited for the old Yayku Broadcasting Station and Mya Kyuntha Park.

The state lost hundreds of billions of Kyats due to these two projects. If there are 20 projects like them, the state will lose thousands of billions of Kyats.

What’s more, the government did not conduct investigation or take action against such cases. The present government is worse than the previous one. Meanwhile, the country’s economy did not improve significantly. If there is any progress, it will be for a handful of people.

Crony businessmen close to the government have become richer and richer. They got more business permits. Now, those cronies have also been allowed to run coal-fired power projects. They are trying to undertake those projects amid local protests.   

 (6)

It is certain that the ruling government has a problem with all the three political, economic and social sectors of the country.

While Myanmar is in a political crisis, the government’s budget deficit has reached more than Ks 10 trillion. The economy, coupled with rising inflation, is almost close to collapse.  

When President Thein Sein came to power, the exchange of rate of US$ 1 was fixed at Ks 800. But now the rate has jumped to around Ks 1,200. Some expect it will reach over Ks 1,200. The Myanmar Kyat has weakened by 50 percent against US dollar and by 20 to 30 percent against other foreign currencies. Myanmar has experienced such currency depreciation over the past 10 or 15 years since 2002 or 2003. The depreciation has become the worst within these four years.

The inflation rate is rising in all sectors, including the real estate market. People not only from Yangon but also from across the country are suffering high cost of living. There have been more squatters and the grassroots people have difficulty making a living. The disparity between rich and poor is increasingly widening.  

Economists are not accountable to the economic crisis. Bribery, corruption and nepotism are the root cause of every problem. Taking action in line with the law is only the solution to this. But they (the government) failed to solve the problem in time. In reality, they had the chance and time to solve the problem.

Talking about social difficulties, there are more than 4 or 5 million Myanmar citizens working abroad. They don’t dare to return home. In the meantime, census results came out.

The results show that the country has a population of over 51 million although about 60 million were previously reported. If the number of migrant workers abroad is counted, the population our country is just over 45 million. That may cause a problem in the forthcoming election.

 (7)

Myanmar is now standing between the US and China. When the general election is about five months away, some have come to put the issue of Bengali Rohingya at the forefront.

They are the UN, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the West Bloc including the US. There are some doubts over this issue.

Among those outlining the Bengali issue are government lobbyists. The Western countries have close ties with the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) working in support of the government in its peace process.

Let’s study the US as an example. News about Myanmar flows to the US Department of State via officials from the US embassy in Myanmar who frequent the MPC. They have got news from other lobbyists. Then those news sources go to US President Obama.

It is most important for Myanmar to amend the 2008 constitution and hold the next round of six-party talks and the general election.

But the US has came to emphasise the Bengali Rohingya crisis by sidelining these three points.

The US congressmen do not show such stances. On June 3, US Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said further normalization of relations between the U.S. and Myanmar relation will be "much more difficult" if elections this fall don't reflect the people's will.

 However, the US government’s move to highlight the Bengali Rohingya crisis at a time when the election nears is worth pondering.

Basically, the ruling Myanmar government has garnered public support in the Bengali issue. The government, whose popularity is declining, could make political gains if it rejects the pressure of the US and its allies over that issue.   

The head of the US Podesta Group the Myanmar government has hired for lobbying used to work for former US State Secretary Hillary Clinton, who will run for presidency in the US election scheduled for next year. There might be something behind hiring Podesta Group.

The US lobbying groups’ efforts could impact on Myanmar’s political affairs. This is why the Obama government’s move to prioritise the Bengali Rohingya issue tends to indirectly support the ruling Myanmar government to continue holding power. The Myanmar people however will not be pleased with this.  

Meanwhile, China has understood the stances of the Myanmar people. It seems to have knowledge of Myanmar’s political crisis.

Chinese Communist Party has invited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to visit the country on June 10. It will be her first visit to China. She is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Her trip to China will be a state level goodwill visit.  

It is clear how China is trying to approach Myanmar in its political situation. Seemingly, China is trying to have good relations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Thura U Shwe Mann out of the four persons most popular for becoming president.  

While the US has no clear foreign policy towards Myanmar, China has given Daw Aung San Suu Kyi the red carpet treatment to show their policy.

 (8)

George Soros, the founder of Open Society Foundation (OSF), has provided aid to the ’88 Generation Peace and Open Society.   



He does not seem to have good relationship with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Some members from the 88 Generation Group, who planned to work together with Soros, have turned their attention back to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  

Soros is one of the very first supporters of the 2010 election and the ruling government. Now again, International Crisis Group he has founded remain supporters of the government.

However, Soros strongly criticised Myanmar during the Oslo conference to end Myanmar's systematic persecution of Rohingyas held in Norway in the last week of May. He branded Myanmar as Nazi and Bengali Rohingya as Jews.

He is wrong to give such critical remarks. Myanmar people are not Nazi and Bengalis are not Jews either. Bengali Rohingya is not among Myanmar ethnic groups. All of them are not Myanmar citizens. They have to undergo scrutiny for citizenship.

His comments could influence the international media and generate pressure on Myanmar.

It is certain that there could be something behind the Oslo conference to seek international assistance by highlighting the Bengali crisis. They are likely to be preparing for the Bengalis to establish a separate state within Rakhine State. All of them are self seekers.

It is uncanny that George Soros, who has a friendly relationship with the ruling government, advocating Rohingya issue in this time.

Soros has a history of paying cash to gain political influence. He has no morality in doing business. There are many instances of him manoeuvring the politics of the US as well as those of Africa, Latin America and Asian regions. The nearest example is that him using millions of dollar to manipulate the 2004 election in US where George W. Bush was re-elected.

Soros, now, seems expecting the benefit he can gain by pressuring the Rohingya issue. If Soros himself has played in the politics of Myanmar directly or indirectly, the future of the country will not turn good.

(9)

Myanmar nationals have two fears: First one is the Myitsone Dam and investments concerned with China. No one can revive the Myitsone Dam. The Chinese government would try to revitalise the dam during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's stay in China.

The suspension of the Myitsone Dam helped open the door to democracy for Myanmar. But this door could be shut by Rohingya issue, and is the second fear all Myanmar citizens share.

Myitsone Dam and Bengali Rohingya case are the two most sensitive issues in the country. It is heavily up to the upcoming government to answer these two problems. The ruling government cannot tackle these issues for sure.

Thus the US and Western group should not try to manipulate Myanmar's politics through the Rohingya issue. If they had ever tried, it is unlikely to succeed.

If the Rohingya issue is presented to the UN Security Council, Myanmar would try to reject it with the help of Russia and China. This will push Myanmar back to the influence of China.

If the Myanmar citizens were asked if they want to stay under the influence of China, they would say no.

If they were again asked whether they appreciate the entering of extremists through Myanmar's backdoor as a result of granting unlawful citizenships to Rohingya, they would again say no.

But if they were to choose either of the two options, everyone knows which one would be their choice. The US and the Western allies should be clear on this matter.

We do not want our country to be like Vietnam, which is become an enemy of China by allying the US. We also do not want to see Myanmar as a satellite state of China.

Frankly, most of the existing Rohingya stories are just trumped-ups. It is important not to get influenced by them.

What people should be interesting in are the amendment of 2008 constitution and the 2015 general election.   

It would be best for Daw  Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD not giving any comments on Bengali Rohingya issue before the election. If not, they would be ensnared by the trap of the dictators.

(10)

Another concern centres on the ethnic people, to be particular, the establishment of a federal union. Whenever the federalism is talked about, the ethnic groups call for the trinity.

If the ruling government is to hold the state power for the second term, the possible structure is just a tripartite group, in which the government, political parties, and ethnicities included separately.

If the upcoming government is composed of Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Thura U Shwe Mann, the ethnic issues can be resolved more easily.  Moreover, the ethnic groups will become more comprehensible in negotiation than now.

Similarly, answering the problems of Bengali Rohingya issue and Myitsone Dam case will happen to be more organised. The Bengali Rohingya issue turns out to be burgeoning during the ruling government. The religious conflict still connects with the government. The people continue accusing over the religious problems.

Also, the nepotism and cronyism are still at large. Only nine corruption cases were looked into in the government's four-year tenure, and there were no considerable actions taken. The complaints about corruption totalled 533 in 2014. Only three of them (0.5 per cent) were investigated and prosecuted.

Everyone knows that such thing will be unconfined in the era of the next government. Corruption is rife in the ruling government. If the current administration took office for the second term, such cases will be definitely out of control.

More organised and strong government is recommended. To become so, the harmony among Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Thura Shwe Mann, and Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing is required.

It looks like the time of President Thein Sein is setting. This is because it was hopeful that President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi could handle the issues in both home and abroad when he took the office. But their relationship turned sour, and the President lost popularity in both home and abroad.

So, it is impossible for both U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to work together in the next term. It takes new players to perform political reforms, for example, U Shwe Mann and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. It will be easier to solve the problems with these players.

(11)

The best way for President Thein Sein is not to stand for the election again. If not, the problem would be worse.

It is better for the country if President Thein Sein declares that he will not run for the upcoming election. His image will also be improved. The people will reckon that the President Thein Sein has done his best in his administration, and be more positive about him. The people will realise that he did not take presidency for power.

Speaking of the election, the corrupt ministers, notorious officials, and their kin should be banned from the election. This would not like it, but the President should tackle them strictly for the common good.

Corrupt ministers and cronies ought to be removed from their statuses and prosecuted right now. The ruling government can take actions against them, and carry on the reform process smoothly. In this way, a knot in Myanmar political situation will be untied.

This will also encourage the freedom and fairness of elections. The people will have a chance to elect a government they favour.

In post-election era, it is likely that the elected government can become the one that can negotiate with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. On the other hand, she can use the experiences of Thura U Shwe Mann and work together harmonically.

The establishment of federal union can be talked with ethnic groups till it comes to a full stop. The constitution will be amended progressively.

This will break the political deadlock and the country will carry on in a stable manner.

Another important thing is the extension of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing's tenure in defence services for two or three years in order to improve the military. He could perform political reforms and amendment of Section 436 during his term in the military.

The situation could also pave the way to the dramatic retreat of military from the country's economic sector as he promised in interviews.

Moreover the problem of military-seized land plots can be sorted out in Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing's tenure.

The country's security in the western and eastern borders may be strengthened.

If the reforms in armed force serve as a help to the upcoming government, and the federal union and the peace with ethnic groups are achieved, Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing will have the popular support if he enters politics in 2020.

The important thing is to put right people in right places. In post-2015 era, the people's representatives will emerge. The military will give support.

It is best for President Thein Sein to give blessings to the other three for the next government instead of standing for the election again. In this way, the issues in the government as well as in the country will unravel gradually.

Thus the ruling government needs to be soft on handling the remaining tasks within the next four or five months and help the upcoming government.

What we want to say to President Thein Sein is to untie the knot. We want to see the President retired with honour.