In March 2011, the transfer of power from the junta of general Than Shwe to the quasi-civil regime of Thein Sein was a time of astonishing political liberalization in Burma. This was evidenced specifically in the re-emergence of parliamentary politics, the return to prominence of Aung San Suu Kyi elected deputy in 2012 and by the shaping of new political opportunities for the population and civil society. Yet, the trajectory of the transition has been chiefly framed by the Burmese military’s internal dynamics. The army has indeed directed the process from the start and is now seeking to redefine its policy influence. While bestowing upon civilians a larger role in public and state affairs, the army has secured a wide range of constitutional prerogatives. The ethnic issue, however, remains unresolved despite the signature of several ceasefires and the creation of local parliaments. Besides, the flurry of foreign investments and international aid brought in by the political opening and the end of international sanctions appears increasingly problematic given the traditional role played in Burma by political patronage, the personification of power and the oligarchization of the economy.
The Burmese junta that came to power in 1962, and reaffirmed its domination by a second military coup d’état in September of 1988, has steadily increased its control over the nation’s institutions and over the running of the country (renamed Myanmar in 1989). In August of 2003, the decision taken by General Khin Nyunt, Prime Minister and head of military intelligence, to propose “a road map to democracy” suggested that a gradual “transition to democracy”, closely supervised by the military regime, was possible. But the ousting of Khin Nuyunt in October 2004 spelled the return of the regime’s hardliners and of the last of the army’s nationalist chiefs, adamantly opposed to any negotiations with the democratic civilian opposition led by Aung San Suu, held under house arrest since May 2003. Thus the regime, strengthened by a favorable strategic environment, has a good chance of remaining in power by setting its own rules for “democratic” procedures, its aim being to keep the country stable rather pursuing a process of liberalization. Such a policy will inevitably be detrimental to the interests of the opposition and the ethnic minorities.