Myanmar, The Economist wrote last year, is “a rare example of an authoritarian regime changing itself from within.”As it borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, bridging South Asia and Southeast Asia, the country is what has been called “a glorious mishmash” of people who immigrated from all directions to create a multi-ethnic society, or rather set of societies.
The transition to democracy began in early 2011, when parliamentary elections turned the government civilian (though the military retained substantial power in Parliament, the ministries and the courts).But the real hero of democratization may be President Thein Sein, who responded to growing economic, social and political pressures by pushing substantial democratic reforms, including competitive parliamentary elections, releasing hundreds of political prisoners, making tentative peace agreements with most of the major armed ethnic groups, passing basic human rights laws and removing press censorship.
His reputation, however, seems to have been tarnished by his recent inability to deal with internal strife between hardline Buddhists and the Rohingyas, which has forced about 135,000 people to flee their homes over the last six months with thousands seeking shelter in camps that the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, has described as “terrible.” With an election scheduled for 2015, investor optimism is high and money is pouring into Myanmar – the global economic landscape. Myanmar has a rich supply of natural resources that remain untapped, while labor costs remain affordable. The Government has also invested heavily in infrastructure projects for capacity building, earmarking special economic zones for foreign funded industrial complexes.