RANGOON – Aung San Suu Kyi’s chances of becoming president dimmed yesterday after she lost her struggle to break the dominance of Burma’s military establishment. Supporters of the democracy activist failed to muster enough votes, despite three days of debate in Naypyidaw, to pass an amendment that would remove a clause that is, in effect, a military veto on new legislation. The army will now almost certainly continue its dominance over politics into the next parliament. Ms Suu Kyi, 70, a Nobel peace prize winner who spent 15 years as a political prisoner, is by far Burma’s most popular politician, and can expect to win an overwhelming victory in this year’s general election.
YANGON — Ahead of national elections due later this year, Myanmar’s military-influenced parliament voted on Thursday to maintain the army’s veto over key legislative changes and to keep a law that prevents popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing for president. After three days of debate on proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, lawmakers opted against any substantive changes to the charter, which was imposed in 2008 by Myanmar’s former military government. Describing the outcome as “not a shock,” Han Tha Myint, a senior member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the party would now decide whether to contest nationwide elections scheduled for November. “We have to meet to discuss this,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.
YANGON – “I was in Calcutta, my niece phoned me to say that she saw my name on a list of the names of the cardinals announced by the Holy Father. I thought she was joking at first.” said Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first Catholic cardinal. That was how the 66 year old Archbishop of Yangon found out back on Jan. 4 that he was to be one of 20 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis. “He wants to show the universality of the whole church and he wants to hear the voice from the different people,” said Cardinal Bo, assessing the pope’s motives for naming new cardinals from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Myanmar, which last year marked 5 centuries of Catholic Church presence in the country.
YANGON – For the Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees rescued near Aceh, the fishermen’s heroics ended what for some was a four month ordeal at sea. “When they were found by the fishermen they were all incredibly weak and many were barely conscious, especially the women and children. Those who were conscious were crying for help. Some jumped into the sea when they saw the fishermen approach asking to be rescued,” said Nasruddin, Humanitarian Coordinator for The Geutanyoe Foundation, which has been working with the survivors. “We have a wisdom that called in local language as “Pemulia Jamee Adat Geutanyoe” or ‘serving the guest is our ritual,’ said Teuku Youvan, a member of the Aceh Disaster Management Agency’s advisory board.
YANGON – Bodies buried in the jungle, camps hurriedly abandoned, officials arrested, police suspended from duty, thousands of desperate refugees adrift at sea and pushed back into international waters by foreign navies. Muslim Rohingya have been fleeing discrimination in Myanmar by running a gauntlet of extortion, rape, starvation and sometimes execution in the remote jungles of Thailand’s south, a usual way station en route to Malaysia. But after a recent crackdown on traffickers by Thailand, thousands of distressed refugees are being pushed back to sea by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand as they attempt to dock, their boats abandoned by crew.
YANGON – Asked about Shwe Mann’s political eyelash-batting, however, the NLD’s Han Tha Myint stressed it was too early to discuss post-election possibilities, much less commit to backing Shwe Mann. “He has to deal with his colleagues in the party first,” said Han Tha Myint, the NLD’s economics point man and now party spokesman. “We don’t have any official stance on [forming a coalition with him].”
YANGON — In an upbeat tour of China and the U.S. in recent days, Myanmar Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann made every effort to look and sound presidential. Ditching his usual longyi, or sarong, for a sharp Western suit, Shwe Mann told a gathering at a U.S. think tank that “if the USDP nominates me as presidential candidate, I am happy to accept.” Shwe Mann, who also chairs the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, first spoke of his presidential ambitions almost two years ago. Now, six months before national elections, the former No. 3 in Myanmar’s previous military junta is among a handful of contenders jostling for position as the race for the presidency kicks into gear.
YANGON – Aung Soe, deputy director general of the commerce ministry’s trade promotion department, told the Nikkei Asian Review that “we are still mainly exporting primary products, but we hope this is the beginning of an increase in productivity and competitiveness.” But billions of dollars worth of logs, gems and opium have been smuggled out of Myanmar in recent decades, distorting one of the world’s poorest economies but guaranteeing huge wealth for connected elites. Meanwhile, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, the majority of the country’s businesses, have typically found it difficult to get bank loans due to stringent borrowing requirements, denying them vital funds to grow their businesses or to finance exports.
YANGON – In Myanmar, about 1.1 million kids start school each year in Myanmar, but of these only about 10 per cent finish high school, mostly those from cities and better-off families. Only one third of children from rural poor households manage to finish middle school. Such attrition makes it hard for companies who need educated, trained staff. “Businesses say that the second-biggest constraint to working in Myanmar is human resources,” said Christopher Spohr, an Asian Development Bank researcher.
YANGON – In a rare discussion of the party’s economic thinking, Han Tha Myint said the NLD wants to press on with the liberalization of the banking sector. In October 2014, nine foreign banks were awarded restricted licenses to operate in Myanmar as part of a gradual opening up to foreign investment. Foreign banks are limited to a single branch each, cannot serve individuals or locally owned companies, and are prohibited from making loans in kyat, the local currency. Han Tha Myint maintained the NLD would loosen these restrictions, saying, “It will be much better for the economy.”