YANGON — Kyaw Soe Win, who was jailed from 1992 to 1998, now leads AAPP(B)’s work with ex-prisoners suffering mental health problems. “Friends, colleagues provided the photos to us,” he said of the hundreds of images, some grainy, faded, black and white, and dating to the 1960s. Inside the museum is a plastic table-top model of Insein, crafted by Htin Aung, another former political prisoner who works with Kyaw Soe Win. The display occupies the middle of the room alongside smaller examples of art and craft works by ex-detainees, as well as rusted shackles worn by prisoners forced to work in chain gangs in remote areas.
RANGOON — One of Burma’s thousands of former political prisoners, Bo Kyi fled to Thailand after he was freed from jail in 1997. He then spent the best part of 2 decades keeping track of and lobbying for the release of others jailed in his homeland for opposing the country’s former military dictatorship. His Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP, opened an office in Rangoon, after Burma, officially known as Myanmar, after the army surprisingly handed power to a civilian government in 2011. The high point of that transition came in 2015 when the National League for Democracy, the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi, probably the world’s best known political prisoner since Nelson Mandela, won parliamentary elections. But now, three weeks after the AAPP opened a museum in Yangon commemorating those jailed fighting for democracy, Bo Kyi is angry. “We have a hybrid regime, we do not have democratic government, we still have political prisoners,” he said.
YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, made a rare admission of fallibility in a televised address to the nation on March 30. “We did what we could for the sake of our country and the people in the first year,” she said in a speech marking the first anniversary of her civilian-dominated government. “We know that we haven’t been able to make as much progress as people had hoped.” That seemed an uncharacteristic acknowledgement of a sputtering economy under her National League for Democracy-led administration. Key economic data suggest that “progress,” as Suu Kyi herself conceded, has slowed. Approved foreign direct investment is estimated to have fallen by a third in fiscal 2016, which ended on March 31, from the record $9.4 billion achieved in fiscal 2015, the last year under the government of former President Thein Sein. Annual growth in gross domestic product is expected to slow to 6.5% in fiscal year 2016, from 7.3% the previous year, according to the World Bank.
YANGON — The governing National League for Democracy looks set to win most of the 12 national parliament seats contested in Saturday’s by-elections — Myanmar’s first vote since the 2015 poll when the NLD romped to a historic landslide victory over the army-backed incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party. Ahead of a full official results announcement for all 19 by-election seats, possibly by late Sunday evening, ethnic parties looked the likely winners in the minority-dominated Rakhine and Shan states, while the now-opposition USDP won a seat in Mon state, an ethnic minority region south of Yangon. Than Chaung, a voter in the Yangon 6 constituency, said he voted “for Aung San Suu Kyi, for NLD.” Asked if he was happy with the progress made under the NLD government, he replied: “she will make changes, but slowly, we know that.”
YANGON — Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy government are gearing up for their first electoral test since taking power last year, with April 1 by-elections looming for a small number of parliamentary seats. “Many of the vacant seats are in the NLD’s stronghold areas,” noted Nay Yan Oo, a Myanmar analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The seats being contested were vacated when their occupants were appointed to various roles in the NLD government. Regulations require that lawmakers who join the administration must give up their parliamentary seats. There are 18 seats at stake, with 95 candidates from 24 parties seeking the support of 2 million voters.
YANGON — Numbering around 1 million people living in western Myanmar, along with several hundred thousand refugees and migrants in neighboring countries, there are few peoples in the world as marooned as the Muslim Rohingya. Most are stateless, denied citizenship by Myanmar due to a 1982 law dictated while the country, then known as Burma, was run by the army. But the end of dictatorship in 2011 and the rise to power of an elected government last year — headed by one of the world’s best-known former political prisoners Aung San Suu Kyi — has done little to help the Rohingya. “They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” said Pope Francis in his latest weekly audience Feb. 8.
YANGON — A Feb. 3 report by the U.N. Human Rights Council featured harrowing accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh of army abuses in northern Rakhine, including the gang rape of women and murder of children. In response to the report, Myanmar’s government, which is led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, initially softened its prior outright denials of military abuse and promised to investigate the allegations. But on Feb. 7, it said it needed more information from the U.N. Naypyitaw’s earlier denials had prompted criticism from around the world. On Jan. 20, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar, said: “For the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.”
YANGON — Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya are holding fast to their identity in the face of official discrimination, public scorn and military action. Excluded from Myanmar’s 2014 census unless they assented to the epithet “Bengali,” most of the country’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya live as virtual aliens in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. How long they have lived in Rakhine State and under what name is a highly contentious matter in Myanmar. “The Arakanese people and the Myanmar people do not accept the term Rohingya,” said Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party, the biggest party in Rakhine State. Like the Myanmar government, Aye Maung refers to the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying that the Rohingya are foreigners. Rohingya disagree. “Nobody can deny us to call ourselves by our name, that is our right,” said Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
YANGON — The World Bank’s forecast on Jan. 30 that Myanmar’s economy will grow by more than 7% annually for the next three years appears optimistic in some quarters. In the latest issue of its Myanmar Economic Monitor, the World Bank said that while growth would most likely be around 6.5% for fiscal 2017 (ending March 31), it would then accelerate on increased investment in infrastructure and sectors such as hospitality. The adverse effects of floods in 2015 would wear off, particularly in the agricultural sector, which accounts for about 60% of the workforce and nearly 40% of the economy. In 2015/16, the final year of the previous administration headed by President Thein Sein, Myanmar’s annual growth was 7.3% — a significant increase from the 5.5% reached in 2011/12, the first year of Thein Sein’s presidency. “The World Bank forecast is somewhat at odds with the mood in the local business community,” said Stuart Larkin, a Yangon-based economic consultant.
RANGOON – More than a year after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory in Burma’s first valid national election in a quarter century, the former political prisoner is looking increasingly aloof from her own history as a victim of human rights abuses. The plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority in the west of Burma, or Myanmar as it is officially called, is well known. Denied citizenship and regarded as Bengali immigrants, the Rohingya not only have been subject to decades of official discrimination but have been largely scorned and ostracized by most Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal opinion on the Rohingya is unknown, she says little to the press these days, but since taking up her role as Burma’s de facto leader last year, she has done little to alleviate their plight — bar ask officials not to refer to them as “Bengali,” a term the Rohingya do not accept as it implies that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.