Asia

Myanmar Gets First Civilian Government In 50 Years

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Burma

Image:Wikipedia

Myanmar Gets First Civilian Government In 50 Years

Htin Kyaw, from the National Leauge for Democracy party, was sworn in yesterday as the first civilian president of Myanmar in 50 years.

Since 1962, when General Ne Win organized a coup against the democratic government, the country has been ruled by the military. In that time, the military government has been criticized for numerous violations of human rights.

It has been alleged that the government has routinely encouraged discrimination against the stateless Rohingya people as well as other ethnic minorities within Myanmar. Ethnic tensions and violence have driven thousands of Burmese refugees into camps in Thailand. Due to government policy in Thailand regarding refugees that the UN has described as “ad hoc and inadequate,” many are forced to exist in these camps in a state of legal limbo, unable to leave for fear of deportment, and unable to stay due to terrible conditions.

In Myanmar, freedom of speech is heavily restricted. Newspapers and television programming is controlled by the government Ministry of Information, and heavy editing is mandated before publishing to restrict speech the government doesn’t approve of.

burma

Image: Wikipedia  “A newspaper with government mandated edits.”

The government also enforces heavy censorship on the internet, using software that monitors and restricts internet activity.

Recent years have seen a steady move towards democracy, most visibly led by Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD, who has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest for advocating democratic government. Kyi has long been seen as the voice of democracy in Myanmar, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring freedom to Myanmar.

Many have called for Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the office of president, yet due to a clause in the Burmese constitution that mandates no president can have family members who are not Burmese, she is technically ineligible as her children are British citizens. She has promised, however, that she will be a significant voice in the government of Kyaw, who is one of her closest aides.

Today marks the first truly civilian government since the military coup, since the previous president Thein Sein, who is handing over the reigns of power, is a former general. It is Sein who deserves much of the credit for this transition, as he first began the steps towards reform five years ago that have culminated in this moment.

As Myanmar, which has long languished under military dictatorship, looks towards the future, many in the country and abroad hope that this will mark the beginning of a long era of prosperity and freedom for the South East Asian Country.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.