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#4829, 11 February 2015

IPCS Discussion

Southeast Asia and Myanmar: Review of IPCS Forecasts

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) successfully reviewed and released two papers from its Forecast Series; on Southeast Asia in 2015 by Prof Shankari Sundararaman and on Myanmar in 2015 by Aparupa Bhattacherjee. The papers were reviewed by Amb Ranjit Gupta and Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray. The discussion was organised by the IPCS in collaboration the East Asia Studies Department, DU and the India International Centre (IIC).

Amb Ranjit Gupta
Distinguished Fellow, IPCS and Former Indian Ambassador to Yemen and Oman

Considering the military’s pivotal role in Myanmar’s socio-political and economic spheres and control over the centre since independence, the military’s decision to give up this control in 2012 is nearly a miracle. The pro-civilian government has been in power for three years, and given Myanmar’s past history of ethnic conflict and dictatorship, it is unrealistic to expect success on peace re-settlement and constitutional amendment within a short period of time. The government’s treatment of the Rohingya issues has been unsatisfactory. The government has also been faulty in controlling the development of Buddhist nationalism and radicalism. Aside from these facts the reality is that no other government has fared much better than the incumbent government in Myanmar since independence. In foreign affairs, although there has been a dramatic upgradation of the US-Myanmar relationship, the country cannot afford to anger its immediate giant neighbour, China, which is rising economically, politically, militarily and technologically, and is poised to be the future leader of Asia.

Thailand is facing a deepening democratic deficit situation. Thai politics and society have been deeply polarised between two camps: Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters on one side and the royalty, Thailand’s established elites and military on the other. The past has shown that the latter camp has devised all strategies to restrain Thaksin and his party to legitimately form and run a government. However the fact remains that any political combination backed by Thaksin is going to win any free and fair election in Thailand in the future. Thus, until this fact has been recognised by the anti-Thaksin camp, instability in Thailand is likely to continue. On the democratic front, Indonesia is devising a start that will be an example to its fellow ASEAN members.

Sino-US strategic competition is going to be the single important factor shaping the evolving equations between the countries in the Asia-Pacific region and these two powers. The new Narendra Modi-led government in India seems to be more adroit in comparison to the last government in creating opportunities for India in this region. Nevertheless India in order to succeed should shed away its traditional weakness or inability to live up to its commitment within the promised timeframe. Similarly, in case of bilateral relations, India failed in its commitments and the nature of its relationship with Myanmar is a specific example.

Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray
Visiting Fellow, IPCS

Thailand and Indonesia have also recorded several developments that will definitely will have an impact in 2015. Malaysia for instance is facing a difficult time due to the fall in the oil prices. Domestically, there could be a significant impact if Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, is imprisoned for five years on charges of sodomy on 10 February this year. On the opposite hand, Cambodia has achieved landmark success on political reforms. The government in power under the opposition’s pressure has agreed to embark on an agreement that will result in an election committee comprising of both the ruling and opposition party to stop election fraud and enable free and fair elections. Similarly, Philippines has achieved remarkable economic success with the country’s GDP recording at be 6.1 per cent, second in Asia.

In Myanmar, some facts remain unchanged: violence continues in some of the ethnic provinces and military continues control over the economy and politics. This could be one of the reasons that encourages the military to use their veto against constitutional amendments. It is to be watched in 2015 whether Myanmar is going to play a balancing role in US-China strategic competition. Reaching out to Myanmar from India has to be through India’s Northeast as for India’s ‘Act East’ Policy to be successful more Indian investment in Myanmar is necessary, and the Northeast acts a natural bridge between the two countries. Thailand’s politics presently depicts a clear example of how much effort the ruling power makes in order to woo its opposition and stabilise power.

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
Chairperson, Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

In Malaysia, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) due to its policies has created a kind of entrenched identity that offered no space for the opposition to form a government. This could be the reason why the Pakatan Rakyat (PAK), the incumbent opposition, was close to winning an election only once during the last general election in 2013. Similarly, in Cambodia, the opposition has not been strong enough to achieve credible political prominence as compared to the ruling party. Philippines, on the other hand, stands out as an example of success with credible political reforms, economic growth and resolution of ethnic conflicts. Constitutional reform in Thailand is dangerous, as it intends to restrict electoral rights only to the elites in society, thus creating a vertical divide between the elites and the non-elites. The Sino-US strategic clash in the region is making the smaller countries vulnerable and contributing to the security dilemma in the region.

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer, IPCS

The government that came to power in 2011 in Myanmar made many promises that have been fulfilled only partially. A nationwide ceasefire agreement on ethnic conflict continues in the background but is irrelevant and cannot be counted as a success. The government needs to initiate real effort when it comes to accepting a federal political structure to make peace with the ethnic groups and also resolve the Rohingya issue. A half-hearted effort may lessen the problem for a short span but may aggravate and be detrimental to the future political and economic progress of the country. Myanmar is also trying the play a balancing role in the Sino-US strategic clash in the region.


• In Thailand, the military will be the power behind both the constitution and the monarchy; however they will come to the forefront whenever the elite’s stature is threatened, as in the present scenario in Thailand. In Myanmar, the military has overt control that will be slowly replaced by covert control.
• The reason for a lack of connectivity between India’s Northeast and Myanmar is a result of the lack of effort on behalf of both the state governments of the seven Northeastern states of India and the central government. The initiative has to be taken by the central and state governments to develop better transportation and infrastructure in connecting India to Myanmar.

Rapporteured by Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Research Officer, SEARP, IPCS

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