Finding Freedom Podcast: Are we really equal?
Europe has seen many improvements in GENDER EQUALITY in recent years. Topic is not a taboo even in some less developed democracies. However, lack of equality between women and men in politic...
Myanmar is the country with the greatest changes in Asia in the last year. Myanmar has a bicameral legislative system with a 440-seat lower, and a 224-seat upper house. The 2008 constitution, written by the former military junta reserves one quarter of the 664 parliamentary seats for army personnel and is filled through appointment by the commander in chief. The president is elected by the legislative chambers. Although 2012 saw immense improvements on the way towards democratic freedom, which resulted in an increase of 1.42 points in â€œfree and fair electionsâ€ score, Myanmar is still a far way from being an actual electoral democracy. The outcome of the last general elections in 2010 was clearly manipulated by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the
official title of the military leadership, by imposing incredibly high fees for candidates and preventing opposition candidates from giving public speeches which allegedly â€œtarnishedâ€ the image of the state and the army. This was the reason for the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and its prominent leader Aung San Suu Kyi not to contest in these elections. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the ruling party affiliated with the military, finally took 129 of 168 seats in the upper, and 259 of 330 seats in the lower house respectively. The majority of other seats were won by the Shan National Democracy Party (SNDP), a minority party. In 2011, former SPDC secretary Thein Sein was elected president. However, the following two years saw changes and Thein Sein engaged in a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, who won a landslide victory in relatively free and fair by-elections in 2012. His administration then lifted press restrictions, legalised public demonstrations, and urged political exiles to return to the country. In the run-up for the 2012 by-elections there were also fewer restrictions on party organisation and mobilisation. Although authorities remain concerned about the destabiliaing potential of public demonstrations, and police still regularly resort to repressive crowd-control tactics, there have been numerous legally registered and non-registered demonstrations in 2012. More and more NGOs provide services, especially in remote minority areas where decade long conflict has taken its toll. However, they still face the occasional threats and harassment.
The military still exerts significant influence on the political decision making processes. However, the development towards reducing the power of the military is progressing, as a major cabinet reshuffle in 2012 which ousted some hardliners clearly highlights. The lifting of press restrictions and granting of public demonstrations show the constant change towards a democratic system in which the military will eventually be under civilian control.
Myanmar made significant strides forwards in regards of press freedom and freedom of expression. Prepublication censorship has been completely eliminated, bans on coverage of controversial topics have been lifted and reports of harassments of journalists have clearly decreased over the course of the past year. Coverage of ethnic conflict such as the ongoing violence in Rakhine state nonetheless remains a sensitive topic. In addition, numerous bloggers and journalists have been released from prison and the first independent press and publishers associations were founded. Despite all these positive developments Myanmar remains one of the more repressive countries in Asia regarding press freedom. There are still a number of laws which can be used to curb critical reporting or to
threaten journalists. However the government consistently keeps on removing such obstacles. One remaining reason for concern is the development of a press law which experienced a rocky start after a first leaked draft showed that it would not lay the foundation for a free press environment. Furthermore independent press associations were not included in the drafting of the law. Also there is still criticism that existing defamation laws could become a new way of limiting critical reporting. Media concentration remains high, though more and more private news outlets open offices. Other obstacles in distribution of information lie in the high level of poverty and the ensuing problem of illiteracy. Also, internet access is very expensive, and in 2012 only 1% of Myanmarâ€™s population was able to access the medium.
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A year of unprecedented government reforms has had little to no impact on Myanmarâ€™s corruption levels, according to Transparency International. Myanmar consistently displays high levels of corruption and this year is ranked 172 out of the 176 countries surveyed.
Myanmar faces major challenges to eradicate its endemic corruption. Little is known on the specific forms and patterns of corruption in the country, but the scale of the informal economy suggests strong links between the ruling elite and organised crime activities, such as drugs, human trafficking and illegal logging.
In the absence of transparency and an effective system of checks and balances, the legal and institutional frameworks against corruption appear rudimentary and deceptive.
Myanmarâ€™s extremely low human rights levels may come as a surprise considering the governmentâ€™s acceptance of the international communityâ€™s calls for reform. Encouragingly, there has been no recorded use of capital punishment for decades. Myanmarâ€™s progress on human rights has indeed picked up speed, but the advances have been offset by localized conflict. Ethnic tensions have again erupted up in Rakhine state between Buddhists and the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims. Officially, 211 people have been killed in Rakhine state from June 2012 to July 2013; however Rohingya activists put the number closer to 1,000. More than 8,000 homes have also been destroyed and at least 140,000 people have been displaced, 94 per cent of whom are Muslim. Without this
localized conflict, Myanmarâ€™s human rights scores would be considerably better. There are also other issues. During a speech while in London in July, President Thein Sein said that he will guarantee that no one remains in prison due to his or her political beliefs. Despite this claim, the government continues to rely on repressive laws to silence dissent and continues to jail protesters. On July 10th 2013, police arrested activist Wai Phyo for organizing a â€œFree Political Prisonersâ€ poster campaign two years prior.
Neither real nor intellectual property is properly protected. As a consequence, competition between economic actors is low. Big state-owned enterprises and companies with ties to the army dominate the industry. Private and foreign companies who are in dispute with governmental organisations have little chance of fair arbitration. Those who have been illegally expropriated rarely get compensated.
Government expenditures (including consumption and transfer payments) are at 10.4%. The low level of government spending is due to a general lack of capacity rather than restraint on the part of the government.
With top income and corporate tax rates of 30%, Myanmar has moderately high tax rates. The overall tax revenue amounts to about 5% of GDP.
Private entrepreneurs until now had limited access to credit and the government controlled banking through state-owned institutions which tended to direct funds to big government or army projects rather than to private businesses. But a number of reforms are currently being undertaken. A new law regulating small and medium enterprises (which account for 88% of businesses in the country) is scheduled to take effect in late 2014. It aims at dismantling some obstacles such as complex tax requirements, health and safety regulations, and cumbersome credit requirements. The new Central Bank of Myanmar Law was signed in July and established the central bank as a body independent from the government. It is now able to set interest rates, manage reserves, and conduct open market
operations without prior approval from the Ministry of Finance. A nation-wide network of ATMs is being set up and will make transferring funds easier. In October 2013 Myanmarâ€™s CB Bank and MasterCard launched the first-ever prepaid travel card that can be used outside of the country. The labour market is subject to heavy state intervention. The inefficient regulatory environment adds to high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Regulations regarding wage rates and working hours are not always observed. However, a law signed in October 2011 brought to an end the 1962 Trade Unions Act, which banned all trade unions in the country. The bill permits the formation of unions with a minimum size of 30 people and allows Burmese workers to legally go on strike, provided they do not impede transport infrastructure or threaten security.
Myanmar has been a WTO member since 1995. However, because of extensive intervention on the part of the state, foreign trade is more or less limited to the export of natural gas, agricultural products, gem stones and timber. A number of foreign companies have lined up to explore offshore oil and gas fields, their bids currently being under consideration by the state-owned Myanma Oil & Gas Enterprise and the Energy Planning Department. Foreign companies will be allowed to operate independently in deep-water blocks, but have to acquire a local partner for shallow-water extraction. The freedom of private entrepreneurs to engage in international trade is restricted by import/export bans and regulations, high taxes and fees, complicated permit and licensing requirements, frequent
policy changes, corruption, and import and export quotas for certain goods.