Analysis: Survival steers Myanmar generals towards reform

Fri Aug 26, 2011 3:28am EDT
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By Martin Petty

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Rare overtures by Myanmar's reclusive, authoritarian rulers toward liberalization and reform suggest change could be afoot in the isolated nation.

The sudden stream of conciliatory gestures by Myanmar's new civilian government has raised questions about the motives of the generals who only five months ago controlled one of the world's most secretive, corrupt and oppressive regimes.

Diplomats, political analysts and many Burmese interviewed inside Myanmar say the retired generals brought back to power after a controversial election last year now appear to realize some moves toward reform could be the key to their survival.

Last week, President Thein Sein held an official meeting with and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winning democracy advocate who was detained for 15 years until released from house arrest last year.

The meeting was welcomed by the international community, but widely regarded as theater.

Western sanctions in place since the military crushed a 1988 student uprising have isolated Myanmar's army dictatorships and continue to frustrate the new government, but there are no signs these will be lifted until there are concrete reforms, in particular, the release of an estimated 2,100 political prisoners.

"What seems to be happening is that the regime is seeking to make itself appear legitimate, a genuine and emerging democracy," said Michael Charney, a Myanmar expert at London's School of Oriental and Africa Studies.

"I don't see any of this as a positive step forward for democracy, but instead as a means of cementing in place the positions of the families who currently hold power over the country with a view toward long-term control."   Continued...

<p>Myanmar's president Thein Sein speaks at an union parliament meeting hall in Naypyitaw August 22, 2011. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun</p>