The new government came to power a year ago. During the difficult years before that, the current leaders often called for societal transformation especially to reduce poverty in the country. Now that they are in power, it is timely to review what has been achieved so far.
On the one hand, it can be said plainly that one year is too short a time to carry out a crucial task like nation building. On the other hand, 365 days is a long enough time to achieve important changes if one is constantly on the alert and efficient. As such, one can perform the promised agenda, at least to a reasonable degree.
In the days before the new government under the National League for Democracy was formed, many observers assumed that longstanding allies would be rewarded with respectable and suitable positions in the Cabinet. For instance, it was hoped that Shan Nationalities League for Democratic Party (SNLD) Chairman Khun Tun Oo and representatives of 88 Generation Students leaders would be called upon to help with the new transformation. But that was not the case.
Also ignored were former MPs who closely monitored the work and performance of the previous government in Parliament and were able to effect changes to various repressive laws.
Personalities like U Thein Nyunt, U Khaing Maung Ye and others have been completely ignored by the ruling party’s elite. They used to be the NLD hardcore, but they quit the NLD to contest in the 2010 general election, which the NLD boycotted. Other outstanding MPs, including Dr Nyo Nyo Thinn, were not on the list.
Given this ongoing trend, some friends eventually turned to foes. Now the 88 Generation Students’ leaders have decided to form their own political party to contest the next general election. They are confident that they could win parliament seats in 2020 if the government is still unable to fulfill its pledges to transform society.
When the Cabinet was announced a year ago, it comprised some highly educated persons with doctorates, but they soon came under severe criticism for not having been educated abroad and for some having got their degrees online. The criticism was so disturbing that the NLD had to take up the matter for internal discussion, and, as a consequence, some decided to drop the “Dr” prefix from their names.
In the months that followed, it became obvious that the formerly close ties between SNLD chair Khun Tun Oo and the NLD top echelon had frozen. It is not wrong to say that since the current government’s very first day, its friends and allies have not been included, and the ruling party has relied mainly on its own members.
In the general election of 2015, the common folks whole-heartedly responded to the call to vote for the NLD, which won a landslide victory. Voters anticipated that with the overwhelming NLD victory, there would be dramatic and effective changes in their lives and society at large, but now they are disappointed because many of the promises were not kept as they had hoped.
Understandably, the government sometimes could not perform its tasks completely because there are many barriers and unpredictable circumstances. Also, in the current government, there are military-appointed ministers. To move forward, all stakeholders must cooperate with one another.
In addition, the NLD-led government faces a huge dilemma in engaging bureaucrats in all sectors. Some senior officials who served in the previous government might not follow orders or implement action plans assigned by the new government, which has created misunderstandings between the government and public.
One pivotal factor that has contributed to the people’s growing misery is the government’s inability to bring down the exorbitant foreign exchange rate. Apparently, the government dare not deal directly with this life-or-death matter. The reason is simple enough: Whenever there was an attempt to curb the value of the kyat, the exchange rate becomes unstable. Theoretically, if the foreign exchange rate is high, the prices of all imported items will go up. But in practice, the prices of daily commodities have gone up regardless of whether they are imported or locally produced, which causes great hardships for people. The government should prioritise this issue of trying to stabilise the exchange rate. Of course, there are other priorities as well, such as bringing peace to the country and advancing economic development.
At this juncture, the people are hopeful that drastic changes would happen quickly in the country and that the government will be more transparent and accountable. They also want the government to explain to them what will be the democratic dividends under the NLD’s leadership. In the previous government, the former leader addressed people every month. This is not happening now. So even if the government has scored successes in certain sectors, the public at large has no knowledge of them. Worse still, most federal ministers and states as well as regional chief ministers remain silent when it comes time to talk about the country’s affairs.
There is a saying that a good government is like a stomach: When it is working right, you hardly know it exists. But there is another kind of a government that does not inform the public or media about its activities, as if there is no government at all.
The author is a veteran journalist with four decades of experience.