Myanmarese citizens are full of hope after the election of their first civilian president in 54 years.
They know change may be just around the corner as the top priority of the new government is to boost economic development and elevate Myanmar from its current status as Southeast Asia’s second poorest.
While Myanmar’s economy grew nearly 8.5 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year and foreign investment was recorded at US$8.1 billion, many believe ordinary people will never benefit from the growth as all resources remain in the hands of corrupt officials and military-backed cronies.
Even with an emerging young population, the country’s wages remain low and its export revenue considered the lowest in Asia.
Myanmar’s Human Development Index is ranked 150th out of 185 nations, according to the Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program.
The country’s GDP per capita is $1,711, the second lowest in Southeast Asia, according to an Asia Ranking report.
Myanmar's new President Htin Kyaw (L) and outgoing president Thein Sein arrive for the handover ceremony at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw March 30, 2016. Photo: Reuters
“One thing we need to do urgently is prioritize economic development,” said Maung Maung Soe, head of the Economic Committee Team under the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Tin Maung Than, a well-known law and economic expert, is also optimistic about the new president.
“I believe [Htin Kyaw] will make better progress, which Thein Sein failed to do in five years [in power],” Tin Maung Than said.
In fact, even prior to the 2015 election, the NLD has already introduced detailed plans, including such actions as easing central bank restrictions, privatizing government industries, and stabilizing the foreign currency exchange rate.
Aung San Suu Kyi promised that one of the new government priorities is to promote economic development.
Win Myint, an economic advisor, believes Htin Kyaw has the background to bring economic development to the country, as he has a master’s degree in economics.
Win Myint also teaches economic knowledge to political parties and is a former advisor to the USDP, the party of Thein Sein.
Big economic players, especially European countries and the United States, will also help Myanmar pave the way to economic development, even though the country remains under sanctions.
“I dare to say the U.S. will ease the sanctions, so the market will open more widely in the near future,” said Tin Maung Than.
Challenges for peace progress
Experts believe that the new government will see itself welcoming new investment from outside countries.
However, the government needs to balance its relationship with foreign investors, especially those with close ties to China, given Suu Kyi’s long friendly relation with the U.S., according to experts.
Myanmar’s Parliament has voted to reduce the number of government ministries from 36 to 21 in the new government, with President Htin Kyaw promising that no public servants will lose their job.
The new government will also reduce state spending by about 5 billion Kyats (US$4.15 million), and the money will be shifted to education and health sectors, which are in need of a higher budget.
Political experts also hope Htin Kyaw’s government will focus on bringing peace to Myanmar’s ethic area where rebels have been battling with the government for five decades.
Myanmar's NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and second Vice President Henry Van Thio attend the handover ceremony from outgoing President Thein Sein and Myanmar's new President Htin Kyaw at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw March 30, 2016. Photo: Reuters
Many believe new government has already made progress on this front after appointing Van Thio, of the Chin ethnic, as vice president. A move seen to illustrate that the new government will try to get peace in the ethnic areas, said Zin Aye, one of the young leaders of a student political movement in 1988.
The move also indicates that the new government will try to rebalance the situation of ethnic monitories, Zin Aye, now lives in Yangon, added.
However, it is still hard to figure out whether the new government and parliament will be able to advance democratic progress without restriction, as they still must follow the 2008 constitution prepared by the military.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (L), Myanmar Commander In-Chief shakes hands with National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi before their meeting in Naypyidaw on December 2, 2015. Photo: AFP
Army-backed candidates account for 25 percent of the parliament, and the military is in charge of three ministries - Defense, Frontier, and Home Affairs. In addition, there are no signs the military is willing to change the constitution.
Complicating matters is a second vice-president, Myint Swe, who was nominated by the army parliament candidates. Myint Swe is on the American blacklist as a hardliner with huge corruption. He purportedly gave an order for monks and protesters to be gunned down, in a 2007 revolution.
“There are still dark sides in politics. The army can play a part in the peace process and the legislative sectors in order to go against the new government. We don’t know yet,” said Zin Aye.
Zin Aye said many questions remain unanswered, such as “what roles Suu Kyi’s will play, what will happen if the army makes trouble in the peace process, and can Htin Kyaw solves everything alone?”
“If we cannot have peace, we also cannot achieve the economic development,” he concluded.
Hkawn Naw and Eaint Thiri Thu from Yangon