Thursday, November 21, 2019

On the Apparent Failure of Burmese Democracy

From a review of a new book by Thant Myint-U, grandson of UN General Secretary U Thant:
He tries to nudge readers away from getting too fixated on messianic solutions. Democracy was a preoccupation among the junta’s critics, but the country wasn’t quite prepared for how a competitive political system might work — especially one where the peace process itself entrenched a belief in the existence of fixed ethnic groups. Protecting minority rights, such as those of the Rohingya Muslims, has proved to be an unpopular proposition among the Buddhist majority; it’s been much easier to rile up voters with rank appeals to identity. As Thant Myint-U puts it, “fear and intolerance” offer convenient cover for opportunists seeking to hide a “failure of the imagination.”

Combined with this whipping up of virulent nativist sentiment has been a headlong plunge into free markets, as Burma lurched from being one of the poorest and most isolated countries in Asia to another aspirant on the capitalist world stage. Thant Myint-U acknowledges the real economic gains that have been made over the past decade — a growing middle class, a new kind of self-made entrepreneur unconnected to the cronyism of the old regime — but he also notes that Burma is still a very poor country where extreme inequality and attendant anxieties have flourished. A population buffetted by economic upheaval and climate change is especially prone to paranoia. He’s skeptical of what neoliberalism offers, even in a best-case scenario: “Relentless environmental destruction and congested cities, compensated for only by the opportunity for lots of shopping. Is this really the only future possible?”

1 comment:

Shadow said...

The tyranny of the majority is not new. I doubt as many people are as surprised as they pretend. The difference in a democracy is the tyrannic majority gets to vote on whom to terrorize. A good constitution will help, but in the end it comes down to human behavior and basic human decency, the latter being sometimes in short supply.

Was it just a couple of weeks ago Tom Friedman of the Times, a man who should never again be permitted to comment on anything Iraqi after his performance during the Iraqi War, waxed eloquently about how well Iraq's democracy was doing? Well here are a couple of tweets from Louisa Loveluck, the Washington Post Bureau Chief in Bagdad:

"Iraqi security force have attacked medical workers for treating protesters, firing on medical workers, tents, and ambulances with tear gas and live ammunition.

"We witnessed one such attack in Bagdad last month, during first round of protests. Paramedics were treating protesters on ground around half mile away from frontline violence -- tear gas then fired on those positions. Ambulances were shot at with live ammo as they drove away."

What are they protesting? Corruption. The very thing so many people in so many other countries are so demoralized by, and democracy doesn't stop it. You just get to vote for the tyrant of your choice. And we wonder why countries turn to Islamic extremist groups like the Taliban, who despite all their faults aren't corrupt.