YANGON — Hanging by Ma Thandar’s living-room window is a photograph of her late husband Par Gyi, his image warmed by the mid-morning sun. His grisly death in October 2014 was a stark reminder that despite five years of quasi-civilian rule in Myanmar, the military remains, in many ways, above the law. Ma Thandar — who ran for and won a parliamentary seat in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 national elections — has vowed to press on with her campaign to find out what really happened to her husband. She is among a handful of women, frustrated by lack of official progress in their home countries, who are making their voices heard on issues across the Asian political spectrum. Par Gyi, a journalist, was killed in detention by soldiers while covering one of Myanmar’s long-running civil wars. It took the army three weeks to reveal the whereabouts of his body. Senior officers claimed he was working for an ethnic rebel militia and that he was shot while trying to escape. However, Par Gyi’s body — dug up from the shallow grave in which he was hastily buried — showed signs of beating and torture. “I want to get justice but the progress is slow,” she said.
HANOI/YANGON — Asian garment manufacturers are signaling concern about disproportionate benefits for Vietnam over regional rivals in the textile sector as a result of major trade deals including the new, U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership and a free trade agreement with the European Union. Vietnam is already the world’s fourth biggest garment exporter, but will gain new preferential access to markets among the 11 other countries that have signed up to the TPP as well as the 28 EU member countries under the EU-Vietnam FTA. These are lucrative markets for Asia’s garment exporters and apparel makers of leading Western brands. “Vietnam’s trade deals will be a concern — not just for us, but the whole region,” said Khine Khine Nwe, secretary general of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
YANGON – Reducing transport overheads will make doing business easier for Ruf Hou, owner of the Aung Min Thu Furniture Mart in Yangon’s Tamwe township, which depends on teak and other timber being trucked across Myanmar’s far flung road system to Yangon. Since 2011, the year the army ceded power to a military-supported civilian government, Aung Min Thu has more than doubled its staff roster to “around 100 people,” according to Ruf Hou. “Many companies come to us and offer to pay extra to have the tables, chairs done more quickly,” he said, discussing the impact of Myanmar’s recent economic growth, which he thinks will continue under a Suu Kyi-run government. “I think that a lot of investor, a lot of company will come to build factories in Myanmar,” he said.
YANGON — Tin Oo is pushing 90, but much like another nonagenarian Southeast Asian politician, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the one-time commander in chief of the Myanmar army and co-founder of the National League for Democracy shows no sign of flagging. Shoulders back, spine straight, and a booming delivery that makes a microphone superfluous, Tin Oo was phlegmatic about the NLD’s landslide victory in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election. It was the first openly contested vote since the NLD won the 1990 elections, an outcome ignored by the ruling military. “This is progress for our side,” Tin Oo said, displaying a mastery of understatement, even as election results showed the NLD taking around 80% of the 1,150 contested seats. But for Nyan Win, another veteran NLD leader, the electoral sweep prompted some poignant reflection. “We are thinking about all the prisoners, all who worked for the NLD, all who suffered,” Nyan Win said. “We hope this election is vindication of all the years of struggle.”
YANGON — One of the tropes the National League for Democracy will have to address before it takes office next April is the view that the party is light on concrete policies and untested in government. The latter is unavoidable, given that the army did not allow the NLD to govern after it won 80% of seats in the country’s flawed 1990 elections. As for economic policy, the party has a few ideas. “We have a plan, and we presented it in the early stages of the campaign,” said Soe Win, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, referring to the election manifesto the party published in September. The NLD said it will keep the budget deficit under 5% of gross domestic product, cut the number of ministries and attempt to curb corruption in the bureaucracy, crack down on tax evasion, increase the independence of the central bank and focus on boosting agricultural productivity — a particularly important step given that around 70% of the population lives in the countryside.
YANGON — For years, the political party was banned and its leading members jailed or placed under house arrest. But in an historic, once-unthinkable turnaround, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will be able to form a single-party government early next year in Myanmar, formerly one of the world’s most durable military dictatorships. After a long, frustrating wait for the party, the latest set of results announced at noon on Nov. 12 by the country’s Union Election Commission showed the NLD had gained the two-thirds majority it needed to govern alone, with the party taking 348 national parliament seats, 19 more than it needed for a so-called “super majority.” The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party had won a mere 40 national parliament seats. Even as it waited for confirmation of its ruling party status, the NLD has been “moving on,” U Win Htein, a close aide to Suu Kyi and a retiring NLD parliamentarian, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
YANGON — With the National League for Democracy looking likely to gain enough seats in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 poll to form a government early next year, party leader Aung San Suu Kyi has signaled her intent to meet soon with President Thein Sein, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann. Even as vote counting continued on Wednesday, Suu Kyi requested the meeting, clearly in order to discuss the handover of power to a government that she has indicated she will run. “We cannot say exactly when they will meet as the counting process is still going at the UEC [the government’s Union Election Commission],” Zaw Htay, a presidential aide, told the Nikkei Asian Review. “Perhaps it will be next week,” Zaw Htay added. Letters from Suu Kyi to each of the three leaders requesting meetings to discuss “national reconciliation,” dated Nov. 10, were posted on the NLD Facebook page on the morning of Nov. 11. Their publication prompted swift replies — also on Facebook — from Ye Htut, the president’s spokesman, and from Shwe Mann.
YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will focus on amending the country’s constitution if it takes power in 2016. Early results across Myanmar from the Nov. 8 national election indicate a sweeping victory for the NLD in the formerly military-ruled country. Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years in detention under Myanmar’s former junta, claimed on Tuesday that her party had won around 75% of the vote, an assertion backed up by a wave of concessions from defeated candidates. A clear parliamentary majority for the main opposition party would enable Suu Kyi to form a government, even though she is prevented by the constitution from assuming the presidency. Tin Oo, an NLD founding member, told the Nikkei Asian Review that amending the 2008 constitution — which also provides the military a veto-wielding 25% bloc of seats in parliament — remains top of the NLD agenda. The constitution bans anyone with a spouse or children who are foreign citizens from becoming president. Suu Kyi had two children with her late husband, a British academic. “The constitution must be reformed in line with the universal principles of democracy,” said Tin Oo, who despite being nearly 90 has been mentioned as a possible NLD nominee for president.
— excerpts of interview in Yangon with former President of Ireland Mary Robinson — head of the Carter Center electoral observation mission — in Yangon