Myanmar in 2020

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Myanmar in 2020
Old problems to persist with no solutions in the near term

  Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Five issues will remain as core problems for Myanmar in 2020; most of these, except for elections and the ICJ verdict will continue to remain the same.

2019 has been eventful for Myanmar, with an allegation of genocide by the Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), souring of the relationship with neighboring Bangladesh over the Rohingya crisis. This has also led to heavy criticism and imposition of sanctions for the same. The internal situation has also been grim with no success in the National Reconciliation Process, the continuation of conflicts especially between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Tatmadaw in Rakhine State. The economic slowdown and disagreement on the constitutional amendments led to a volatile situation.

The new year in Myanmar started with the baggage of these unresolved issues and is going to be the major problem for 2020. Apart from these, the general election which is scheduled for the end of this year will be the focus along with impending ICJ verdict. 

Will there be a change this year? Will there be a solution to these problems? Five issues will remain as core problems for Myanmar in 2020; most of these, except for elections and the ICJ verdict will continue to remain the same.

1. NLD will return to power, with less votes from non-Burman communities
In 2016, when NLD came to power there was an expectation of miraculous transformation. The much-awaited democratic government after five years seems to have failed to bring any differences and have scored poor in issues of economy, politics and press freedom. The flagship 21st Century Panglong conference failed miserably. As a consequence, the National Reconciliation process has been disrupted to an extent that the ethnic groups who were the once pro- Aung San Suu Kyi have turned against her. She, who once was seen by many as the messiah of democracy and human rights turned out to be a good politician.  Her anti-Rohingya and pro-army stand have made it evident 

Internationally, there has been vehement criticism against her and several have requested that her noble prize should be withdrawn. The US has imposed sanctions on the travel of four high ranking military leaders. However, this has not impacted Suu Kyi’s charisma back home her recent strong speech in support of the country and its army at ICJ has reasserted her role as the ‘mother of the nation’. Irrespective of her political and economic failure she has guaranteed the Burmese vote back for this election. The lack of ethnic support might hamper the numbers, but there is less doubt that she and her party are coming back to power. 

2. Rohingya Crisis will continue
The ICJ verdict is one of an important bone of contention for Myanmar this year. The ICJ is probing into five or six provisional measures proposed by the Gambia as an action to punish Myanmar. If the ICJ rules against the provisions, then there is no problem. But if approved, then the issues go to the UN Security Council, as the ICJ has the authority to give rulings but does not have the authority to enforce it. In that case, Myanmar’s only way out is its dependence on China and Russia. 

Given the international sentiments and on-going Sino-US trade war, this can hamper rather than befit the country. Myanmar is in the infant stage of its democracy should not be risking to be recognized as part of any camps. This will also impact its relationship with India, Japan, and South Korea who are some of its investors and economic collaborators.  

3. The national reconciliation process will yield little
The failure of 21st Century Panglong has been detrimental, it has hampered the National Reconciliation process. The NLD gained the support of the ethnic armed group to be the first to support their Mae Thaw Rah Hta Declaration during the military regime when it was prohibited. This support of ethnic people has assisted garnering a large number of votes from them. Hence there were expectations from the NLD organized reconciliation process in which even the army had given affirmative response to the initiation of the federal process. But after so much build-up, when the process failed it was seen as a betrayal by many ethnic groups. 

Additionally, some of the political leaders of the NLD who were part of initial negotiation with the ethnic groups and had gathered the respect are no longer part of the party. This has also dampened the trust and the process. The ongoing conflicts, especially the one between the AA and the army will make the situation worse.  This will be a crucial problem for Suu Kyi for her next tenure also.

4. NLD-Military bonhomie will continue
Suu Kyi’s only commendable achievements have been to balance her precarious relationship with the army. Due to the lack of constitutional amendment, they still play a pivotal rule in politics and governmental decisions. Hence in 2016, when NLD came to power the interference of the army was a major concern.

Over the years, Suu Kyi proved her skill of working along with her once staunch enemy proficiently. The current ICJ problem has acted as a catalyst in improving their equation which ensures the continuation of the same for this year also. 

5. Myanmar's China tilt will help internally 
Irrespective, of the ICJ verdict the international criticism towards both Suu Kyi and her country, are going to haunt them this year also. To flare the situation, Suu Kyi’s tilt towards China since coming to power is evident. Her visit in 2017, pragmatic approaches to the stalled Chinese projects in Myanmar and affirmative mention of China in her speeches makes it clear.

This tilt resulted in Chinese refusal to condemn Myanmar and support it for the Rohingya crisis, unlike others. It also led to Xi Jinping's maiden visit to the country at the starting of 2020 itself, whereby he has signed twelve deals and ensured their support. But this will have an impact on the image of Suu Kyi and Myanmar and also impact its relationship with its other neighbours and investors. This may also hamper the already slow and inefficient economy of the country. 

To conclude, 2020 there will be no changes and there will be no solution to the existing problems of Myanmar. 

Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a PhD Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS

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