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 — 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 — 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.
JAKARTA — The spiraling humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State is prompting anger among Muslims across Asia. Last week, thousands of protestors in several regional capitals slammed Myanmar’s treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority — even going as far as labelling the country’s de facto leader, a former political prisoner and now State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as a “butcher” over the military’s brutal crackdown in Muslim-dominated borderlands close to Bangladesh. In Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other country, around 400 demonstrators, including members of some Islamic political parties, gathered in front of the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on Nov. 25, shouting demands that Aung San Suu Kyi hand back the Nobel peace prize she was awarded while under house arrest by the Myanmar military in 1991. “I’m sorry Ms. Suu Kyi, we know you accept the Nobel peace prize, but where is the peace in Myanmar? There is no peace in your country for Muslims,” said rally co-ordinator Julkifli Ali.
YANGON – Prospects for an improvement in the Rohingya’s situation appear bleak after the Myanmar foreign ministry, which is headed by Suu Kyi, recently asked the U.S. to refrain from using the term “Rohingya.” Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader in the Rakhine capital of Sittwe, said that he was not surprised at the foreign ministry’s petition to the U.S. “The foreign minister and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi understands very well about the Rohingya and what is happening in Rakhine state, but she is silent and not saying anything.” Rather than dealing with the Rohingya issue, some observers believe that Suu Kyi is now focused on changing the country’s constitution to allow her to become president. The new government has also said it wants to prioritize peacemaking with Myanmar’s many ethnic militias as well as promote economic growth. “I think the new government is more concerned right now about maintaining domestic political stability. The NLD probably doesn’t want to have to deal with the voices of the Myanmar’s extreme nationalists as it feels that it already has a lot on its plate,” said Miguel Chanco, Southeast Asia analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
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.
SINGAPORE — It was no more than a glance, but Aye Aye Win’s respectful mid-sentence nod toward her 83-year-old father said as much as anything else about why she wants to remain in Singapore after three decades in the city-state, away from her family in Myanmar. The old man, Maung Htay, had been in Singapore “for a few weeks” to get medical treatment that Aye Aye Win said was out of his reach at home — a legacy of decades of meager health spending by Myanmar’s long-ruling military junta She runs a small shop in Peninsula Plaza, a vibrant commercial complex that is the center of Myanmar life in Singapore. Women, their cheeks painted with cream-colored thanaka — a Myanmar cosmetic made from tree bark — perch on high stools behind shop counters selling cellphones. Other shops selling longyi — a Myanmar version of the sarong — sit alongside restaurants dishing up Myanmar staples such as tea-leaf salad and mohinga, a popular curried fish and noodle soup. “I plan to stay here, though I know a lot of people who are going back,” said Aye Aye Win