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Identity, Religion, Nationalism & Democratisation in Burma/Myanmar

0900–1030, Thursday 14 April 2016, C2

Organiser:
Khin Mar Mar Kyi
University of Oxford
2012maryear@gmail.com

Chair:
Khin Mar Mar Kyi
University of Oxford
2012maryear@gmail.com

Myanmar is at last entering a period of democratisation, with aims (and claims) of reform after six decades of military reign, and it is at a critical juncture in the struggle to build a democratic, peaceful and developed society. Despite two landslide political victories of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) at the 2012 and 2015 general elections, Myanmar’s military has yet managed to reserve 25 per cent of both parliament houses’ seats, and bar Suu Kyi from becoming president. Notwithstanding this, it is the first time in the history of Myanmar, that many educated and passionate academics and activists dominate parliament, and, even more importantly, that a larger number of female MPs have been elected. While in the current parliament female representatives increased in general, the number of NLD’s MP females came down from their own record in 2012. Males still overwhelmingly dominate parliament, and, compared to the other ASEAN member states, Myanmar still maintains its position as the least female-represented country in the region. This panel will discuss the country’s barriers, opportunities and challenges for not only democratic government but also many individuals and minorities including women and ethnic communities.

 

Paper 1: Buddhist nuns and the acculturation policy of Myanmar state

Hiroko Kawanami
Lancaster University
h.kawanami@lancaster.ac.uk

Buddhist nuns in Myanmar have been largely apolitical in the public arena although they are supportive of the monks because of their deep allegiance to the sangha. As their social stature has increased in recent decades, with the more scholarly-inclined nuns exerting leadership in their local communities, they have also become increasingly incorporated into the national monastic organization, performing important roles for the state and promoting the campaign of thathana-pyú (the mission to spread and disseminate the sāsana). In this presentation, I give a general overview of the current socio-religious position of Myanmar Buddhist nuns, commonly referred to in the vernacular as thiláshin, and reflect on some of the changes that have taken place in the recent decade especially in the recruitment of ethnic minority children as the result of the acculturation policy of Myanmar state.

 

Paper 2: Gender and democratisation in modern Burma

Khin Mar Mar Kyi
University of Oxford
2012maryear@gmail.com

Despite two landslide political victories of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) at the 2012 and 2015 general elections, Myanmar’s military has yet managed to reserve 25 per cent of both parliament houses’ seats, and bar Suu Kyi from becoming the president.

Notwithstanding this, it is the first time in the history of Myanmar, that many educated and passionate academics and activists dominate parliament, and, even more importantly, that a larger number of female MPs have been elected. This paper will discuss what are the challenges, opportunities and changes that women of Burma face and how best to empower women to be the change makers in peace building,  sustainable development and democratisation in Burma.

 

Paper 3: The role of ethnic groups in Myanmar’s democratisation process

Marie Lall
UCL
mariecarine.lall@gmail.com

 

Under the Thein Sein government ethnic issues were at the forefront of politics. This was first because ethnic parties were able for the first time to play a political role in government, especially at state level. Ethnic politics was also strengthened by the peace process that allowed for the first time all ethnic armed groups to negotiate as a joint group with the government. In light of the overwhelming win of the NLD the paper reviews how the ethnic question is central to a real democratisation process. The NLD – with the newly established ministry for ethnic affairs shows that it is committed to engage with ethnic issues and grievances, however in effect subsuming ethnic issues under the NLD banner. The paper questions how far the NLD can truly represent ethnic voices and if the loss of diversity in ethnic representation will hamper a deepening of the democratisation process.

 

Paper 4: Brave New Burma:  (Reduced)  Praetorian (Small) Gap Being Filled by Movements towards a (Buddhist) Theocratic State?

Myint Zan
Multimedia University
myint.zan@mmu.edu.my

 

The landslide victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) for a second time in just over a generation in the November 2015 elections and the scheduled meeting of the new Legislature in February 2016 has understandably raise both hopes, expectations as well as anxiousness among the Burmese  for steps towards (taking poetic licence) a  ‘brave new Burma’ or (to quote from the government mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar ) ‘dawn or a new era’. ွhould the so-called ‘transfer of power’ from the quasi-civilian government to the NLD takes places (as I write in early January 2016) the direct, partly-disguised military and authoritarian rule since 1962 can in an only (slightly?)  optimistic scenario  will be somewhat reduced in that  though the military influence and praetorian practices would continue they would  (hopefully) not  be as prominent or as direct in the past five decades.  Still, since about 2012 a discernible if not disturbing trend in Burmese politics is that (of to  ‘employ’ a term mainly used in the United States in relation to the ‘Christian right’) of  the rise of the ‘Buddhist’ right (as in not ‘left’) and Buddhist nationalism and chauvinism. The ‘revered’ Thidagu monk just before the 2015 elections gave a speech in the victory celebrations of the passing of the four ‘race and religion’ protection laws where among others, he –if not proposed- then raised  the point that Buddhist council of monks should be (in one sense) ‘above the State or secular authorities’ to further cement the ‘victory’.  In his speech he gave the formation of the Christian Democrat party  in  Italy (after the Bolshevik revolution) , Malaysia (where Islam is the official religion) and Iran (where Thidagu has visited) and  where the Ayatollahs seem to be ‘above the (Iranian) president’. The presentation would explore or discuss whether in the Burmese politics though praetorianism would possibly be reduced inchoate proposals or demands  by  the Buddhist religious right would ‘balance off’ the Army’s (only) slightly reduced role. Whether  (perhaps in the worst case scenario) an unholy alliance of the segments of the Burmese Army and segments of the Buddhist clergy could arise as a religio-political force of if not significant dimensions then at least as a non-negligible  negative influence in the ‘new’ era of Burmese politics would also be stated.