Myanmar also commonly known by the name of Burma is set into throes of change which have seen a rush to the capital Nay Pyi Daw the seat of the government. A hand shake and photo session with President Thein Sein and meeting with the ministers is followed by the usual platitudes of advice if you are a minister from the West on human rights and release of prisoners and reconciliation if you are from the more pragmatic East.
The politically more significant meeting is seen to be held in the old capital Yangon where Daw Aung Suu Kyi leader of the National League of Democracy NLD for short and Nobel laureate holds court. From Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinwatra to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the meeting with Suu Kyi receives most attention. To be photographed with her appears to be a confirmation of liberal credentials of world leaders, political, “romancing,’ has therefore attained a new dimension.
Meanwhile transformation in Myanmar seemed to be gathering momentum as the President approved a new law allowing citizens to hold peaceful protests after seeking permission from local authorities. As per the new law anyone planning a protest must ask for approval five days prior from the police. Permission can be denied but reasons will have to be given for the same.
Myanmar also announced dates to hold by-elections on April 1 for 48 seats to the parliament. "The by-election will be held on April 1," a Myanmar government official who asked not to be named told AFP. Those who wish to take part will need to register between January 16 and 31. Announcement of the bye election dates denotes government’s seriousness of getting Aung Suu Kyi in parliament thereby indicating that overall restructuring process is going in the right direction.
The NLD or National League for Democracy Suu Kyi’s party has already registered a few days back thereby indicating its willingness to join the government led initiatives. There is also adequate time for the party to build up public support for there are certain elements that are not happy with the NLD joining a parliament which has a large number of military serving and retired officers. Suu Kyi however appears to have taken a pragmatic decision of reconciliation which has paved the way for breaking isolation of the Myanmar regime and with these prospects of removal of some of the sanctions by the middle of 2012 and beyond would be ripe.
The attempt by the NLD to make a comeback has also seen the Party adopt a new logo to reflect changes that have taken place in the past many years when it was driven out of politics. Thus Suu Kyi plans to project image of the Party with new energy to suit the changed circumstances. There has also been an attempt to link the Party with the struggling political class who has been strongly opposing the military junta including the 1988 protesting students who have a very high regard in Myanmar amongst the people. Thus Suu Kyi and the NLD would have to ensure that they not just make changes to suit the new political reality but also do not lose support of the old guard who has been their ally in the long fight against the military junta.
Some reports indicate that rapprochement between the US and Myanmar may have started in May 2009 when John Yettaw a mentally disturbed American was apprehended as he swam across Yangon's Inya Lake to rescue Suu Kyi under detention. Yettaw claimed that he was on, "a mission from God." John Yettaw was a veteran of the Vietnam war and hailed from Missouri in the United States. He claimed that he wanted to smuggle out the democracy champion in a burkha. He was convicted along with Suu Kyi for violating terms of her house arrest. Yettaw was however allowed to fly out of the country with a U.S. senator, John Webb. Webb seems to have also met then supreme leader of the military junta, Senior General Than Shwe. The military leader it was stated wanted to balance Chinese influence. This led to expanding contacts with eventual opening up of Myanmar’s politics which may also now lead to ending international isolation.
This was evident with the Fourth Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS) Summit held in Myanmar International Convention Center. The theme of GMS was, "Beyond 2012: Towards a New Decade of GMS Strategic Development Partnership". Myanmar President U Thein Sein was Chairman of the meeting attended by leaders of six GMS countries -- Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Myanmar's President U Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
The Mekong river particularly in trifurcation of borders between China, Thailand and Myanmar has seen the rise of a large number of drug and arms running gangs that have attacked Chinese security personnel recently leading to joint patrols by the three countries. Three Myanmar soldiers were killed in December during a joint patrol with Lao troops when they clashed with a suspected criminal gang along the Mekong River. The gang believed to be led by alleged drug trafficker Nor Kham engaged the patrol at Ban Don Sam Pu, 20km north of the three-way junction of the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
There is also a need for underlining security dimensions of this grouping with border conflict erupting between Cambodia and Thailand as well from time to time. All these factors make the GMS forum an important one and for Myanmar this would add to the momentum to take on ASEAN chair in 2014.