Pathways That Changed Myanmar

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Pathways That Changed Myanmar by Matthew Mullen.

Why has the regime of Myanmar (Burma) only recently moved away from military authoritarianism toward a civilian government with democratic processes? Political scholars of Myanmar, and comparative democratization more generally, have sought to answer this question to varying degrees of success. Some works in this vein include Marco Bünte (2013), Nick Cheesman, Nicolas Farrelly, and Trevor Wilson (2014), Lee Jones (2014), Nehginpao Kipgen (2016), and David Steinberg (2014) – with Renaud Egreteau’s (2016) argument of the ‘caretaking’ and ‘pacted’ nature of the military’s ‘top-down’ approach to reform being one of the more notable dissections to date.

Pathways that Changed Myanmar by Matthew Mullen is an interesting addition to this landscape of recent works on Myanmar’s transition. In many ways, this publication is able to explore and provide invaluable data on dimensions of regime transition that these other accounts have generally glossed over in their analyses. In other ways, however, Mullen’s explanation for change seems to tackle more than is necessary and is, in general, not a very focused work – one that is theoretically a mess of ideas without any stable or coherent direction.

Mullen posits the main question of the book in the following fashion… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review of Pathways that Changed Myanmar by Matthew Mullen originally published in NewBooks.Asia by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of Khin Shwe, chairman of Zaykabar Company, at the top of this re-post goes to Soe Zeya Tun of Reuters, found in the article “In Myanmar on Cusp of Change, Former Junta ‘Crony’ Sees Business As Usual” by Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski. Why use this image at the top of this review? Because it explains more about the changing dynamic of Myanmar’s “transition” than any wishful thinking by us milksop academics (in which I include myself). Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Beyond the Refugee-Migrant Binary? Refugee Camp Residency Along the Myanmar-Thailand Border

Abstract

Processes of mixed migration beyond the reified “refugee-migrant binary” of migration studies are an empirical reality along the Myanmar-Thailand border. Utilizing a survey of 3,874 mobile individuals from Myanmar in Thailand as a case study, this paper examines the impact of past experiences of migrants on the likelihood that any one of them will reside inside a refugee camp instead of outside of one in Thailand. A dataset is constructed that specifically intersects “refugee” communities with “labor migrant” communities in order to measure the importance of factors of socioeconomic, self-identity, past persecution, and social network considerations. Though indicators like religion, ethnicity, and the fear to return are salient in the likelihood of living inside a camp, family location is the strongest single predictor variable for whether or not an individual from Myanmar will inhabit a refugee camp. Future research may benefit by researching across migrant communities normally considered disparate.

Introduction

Human mobility across the 2107-km border that separates the national states of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand is a complex affair. From a macro perspective, vast disparities in economic wealth, political governance, and social conditions be- tween the two countries for the last half-century have materialized in a movement that is primarily mono-directional—from Myanmar to Thailand. From a micro perspective, the mobile identity of individuals who move has conceptually fallen under categories as varied as refugee, labor migrant, émigré, student activist, family member, escapee, soldier, political prisoner, worker, ethnic fighter, and others. Furthermore, the social scientific argumentation as to the what, when, where, why, and how of this mobility from Myanmar to Thailand has encapsulated, at one time or another, all those traditional binaries of migration studies such as push-pull, forced-voluntary, structural-agential, political-economic, national-international, and so on. There are valid reasons to justify one identity, one concept, or one chain of events over another depending on the argument at hand. Yet, there should be one point upon which all can agree to begin this article in the realm of factuality. Regardless of what we call them or why they are there—today, more individuals from Myanmar can be found in Thailand than vice versa.

This article aims is to revisit one of those binaries of migration studies. Specifically, the refugee-migrant binary will be challenged by an exploration of factors that lead to an individual residing inside or outside a refugee camp. The dependent variable under study here is mobile location after crossing an international border.

This study is done in light of recent work that emphasizes the “mixed flows” or “mixed migration” nature of contemporary movements across borders. Utilizing the Myanmar-Thailand border as a case study, the main argument is that both the mobile self-identity and the mobile location of individuals who are normally called “refugees” and individuals who are normally called “labor migrants” intersect in complex ways beyond that normally argued by the refugee-migrant binary. What it means to be a refugee and to be a labor migrant are not mutually exclusive. These creatures of the lawyer’s, the humanitarian’s, and the social scientist’s—indeed, of the politician’s—imagination overlap in important ways. There are unquestionably good legal, humanitarian, policy, and ethical reasons to make a clear distinction between a “refugee” and a “labor migrant” at times. But in those cases where some overlap in identity and causal backdrop are observable, the researcher has an obligation to explore the empirical evidence as to just how they overlap in order to better theorize and, if possible, test claims about human mobility in a field of reality.

Rather than look at those cases where the refugee or the labor migrant fit some uncontested role, this article seeks to explore the exact opposite. More can be learnt by exploring a case where… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in the Journal of International Migration and Integration by T. F. Rhoden; image-photo credit for this post via the Faces of Hope Fund. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Hidden Words Hidden Worlds

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Hidden Words Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar, edited by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum.

The crisis of recent months between the majority Buddhist Burmese and minority Islamic group calling themselves Rohingya serves as a reminder that Myanmar (Burma) is not a unified country in the sense of one nation, one state. The central government’s overreaction to an increase in Islamic radicalization in some rural areas by the brutal expulsion of 600,000-plus souls across the border into Bangladesh—though violent and tragic—should not be mistaken as unique in Myanmar’s history.

Stretching back at least seventy years to Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the various conflicts between the majority ethnic Burman along the central Irrawaddy valley down to the delta and the hundred or so different ethnolinguistic groups that populate the republic’s borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand attest even more vividly to disunity. The response to the Rohingya crisis is not without precedent. Wave the compass in the direction of northeast Myanmar and another ferocious struggle comes into purview between the central government and the Kachin peoples. Despite valid steps toward democratization—maybe less valid toward political liberalization—these types of communal conflicts have never not been an empirical reality for independent Myanmar. This cruel misalignment between majority-versus-minority aspiration is well documented both inside and outside Myanmar.

Less well documented are those perspectives that often never make their presence felt outside the smaller linguistic communities in Myanmar. The literary anthology Hidden Words Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar, edited by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum, is a fascinating reversal to the usual absence of non-Burman viewpoints. The short stories gathered here are an eclectic mix by fourteen different authors. The writers are… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Review of edited book by Lucas Stewart and Alfred Birnbaum originally published in Asian Review of Books by T. F. Rhoden; photo image credit of Rakhine Hills for this re-post goes to the talented DG-Photography via a post by Nada Haensel in Destinations Magazine. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Caretaking Democratization

A review by T. F. Rhoden of Renaud Egreteau’s Caretaking Democratization: The Military and Political Change in Myanmar

Why have the Burmese armed forces withdrawn from direct control of the state? Why have they allowed a “hybrid” regime, with a representatively elected government, to form? What moniker does one use for this new, neither fully authoritarian, nor fully democratic, Myanmar? Indeed, what spurred the recent deepening of political liberalization and widening of democratization across the nation. And why now and not decades earlier?

These are some of the questions which imbue Renaud Egreteau’s excellent Caretaking Democratization: The Military and Political Change in Myanmar (Oxford University Press, 2016) with a saliency and urgency for those wishing to apprehend Myanmar today.

In what this reviewer considers to be the most important publication of the decade on the subject of Myanmar’s democratization, Egreteau argues that the “transition has been driven from above, by ruling Burmese elites—especially military ones—in a clear position of strength since the early 2000s.” By initiating a “well-thought-out”, “caretaking”, and “pacted” transition since 2011, “the Tatmadaw leadership merely chose to move down a notch on the scale of political intervention.” This analysis reminds us that there is more here than some naïve romanticizing of “Burma’s Spring.”

The decades of military authoritarianism are over. The sordid “military junta” as a regime type has disbanded. The current government, particularly after the 2015 general election, is the most democratically representative since independence. But, the Burmese armed forces’ praetorian commitment to political intervention—some of these guaranteed by the 2008 Constitution—demonstrates that the military will continue to have a sizable effect on future developments. Egreteau is keen to remind us that the science of comparative politics is uncertain about the endpoint to this “transition.”

The introduction and initial chapter lay out the focus of the study, one that centers the years from 2010 to 2015 as instrumental. This positions the book as an indispensable resource for comparativists and international affairs scholars in understanding early-stage democratization. Despite the particularity, and peculiarity, of this “sui generis case”, Egreteau frequently utilizes other postcolonial examples to draw out similarities and differences where relevant. Core to the argument of the “planned withdrawal” of the Burmese military from the highest reigns of governmental power were those machinations of “inter-elite negotiations” which centered upon a “pact” between three specific segments of Myanmar’s polity. This “top-down” approach included soldier-turned-civilian leaders from the ancien régime, well-known and well-liked leaders from the pro-democracy opposition—foremost amongst them, Aung Sang Suu Kyi and elites of the National League for Democracy (NLD) political party—and leaders of politicized or armed ethnic groups, particularly those who appeared open to cease-fire negotiations.

Egreteau points out that incorporating… [click here to continue to read full text]

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*Originally published in Tea Circle Oxford by T. F. Rhoden; image credit for the top of this re-post goes to awesome Randall Collis. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Migrant Labor Activists Plan for the 2020 Election in Myanmar

Over two million Burmese migrants in Thailand were left out of Myanmar’s 2015 election. Will it happen again in 2020 ?

The Union Election Commission of Myanmar reported turnout at 69 percent for the historic 2015 elections within the country. Outside of the country, the story was very different. Fewer than 20,000 external voters engaged their political right at the ballot box abroad. This amounted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the over four million people who compose the Burmese diaspora.

“We labor migrants and refugees were simply considered not important enough by the previous Burmese government to be involved in the elections last year,” says a Bangkok-based migrant and labor rights activist from Myanmar, who wishes to stay anonymous due to her illegal status in Thailand.

Burmese migrant activists have begun meeting to plan for the next election four years away. They want a much higher rate of turnout for absentee voters for the next election.

A recent example of this foresight was an open letter from a network of migrant associations operating in Bangkok to Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor of Myanmar. The open letter was meant to coincide with her official June 2016 visit to Thailand. Though the majority of recommendations were about more immediate concerns of migrant labor rights for Burmese citizens who make the trek to Thailand for work, the letter also included important recommendations for an extension of absentee suffrage. Migrant associations specifically requested guarantees for inclusion in future national elections.

Suu Kyi did not publicly address the absentee suffrage challenge during her visit like she did other migrant labor problems. Yet the fact that politically active Burmese in Thailand included this in their letter already demonstrates their concern with “not losing this opportunity again” for potential external votes to be counted in the next general election.

Lowering Costs for Migrants

In terms of Myanmar’s… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in The Diplomat by T. F. Rhoden; image-photo credit for this post via Channel NewsAsia. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Yangon’s Stock Exchange in Comparative Analysis

Abstract

In the political sphere, the citizens of Myanmar have witnessed and taken part in an expanding and deepening process of democratization and political liberalization in the past few years. In the economic sphere, changes are also underway that indicate a growth of economic liberalism. One part of that process is a slowly increasing financialization as indicated by the new Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) set to begin trading operations in late 2015.

This paper will analyze what this new stock exchange means for the citizens of Myanmar by placing it within a regional comparative analysis of stock markets across Southeast Asia, including the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange (HoSE), the Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX), the Lao Securities Exchange (LSX), and the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX). The main argument is that despite calculable risks in terms of business transparency and national politics, the potentialities for a successful YSX are in place. The main socioeconomic conditions that warrant investment, both from the domestic as well as international perspective are 1) the depth and diversity of Myanmar’s adult population size, 2) Myanmar’s rallying industrial sector, 3) Burmese businesses’ current lack of bank financing, and 4) Burmese citizens’ little-to-no holdings in financial assets as compared to other non-financial wealth holdings.

The YSX will not be an overnight success for either domestic Burmese investors or for domestic Burmese enterprises seeking new avenues to finance growth and project investment. However, the systemic socioeconomic conditions are in place for the Yangon Stock Exchange to parallel more closely the experience of the Vietnamese HoSE and HNX than that of the other Indochinese exchanges of LSX and CSX.

Keywords: Yangon Stock Exchange, YSX, Myanmar, political economy, finance, wealth

Introduction

For the first time in its nation’s history, Myanmar will soon possess a full-fledged, independent, and computerized national bourse: the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX). Though a late start has already been announced, a visit to the neoclassical Palladian building on the southeast corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Merchant Street in Yangon, where the old Reserve Bank of India used to issue banknotes during the 1940s, allows one to see the hustle and bustle of construction and renovation—all evidence that a stock market is indeed going up. Entering from the front stairs and into the center of the building, one sees a large square pit in the center of which will be placed a massive LED screen to display trading activities. To the left, a glass-paneled conference room for future investors is being built, whilst to the right, small rooms to be rented for representatives of underwriters, brokers, and advisors are being partitioned. The press corps will also have their own spot in the balcony. And to the very far right, one sees the shell of a future coff ee shop meant as something of a historical tribute and “for good luck since the world’s oldest stock exchange was in a coffee shop.”

But then again, this is just a building. Though it is a good sign that there is active construction, there is nothing here that suggests at first glance that the Yangon Stock Exchange will be a success. Two other grand-looking buildings in Southeast Asia also house exchanges—these are the Lao Securities Exchange (LSX) off Kampheng Meuang Road in Vientiane, Laos; and the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) along Preah Mohaksat Treiyani Kossamak in downtown Phnom Penh, Cambodia. However, neither of these bourses are, by any standard definition, successful stock exchanges. What might indicate that the upcoming YSX will be different?

To varying degrees, other more successful stock exchanges can be cited in Southeast Asia. Examples include, from newest to oldest: the Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX); the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HoSE); the Indonesian Stock Exchange (IDX); the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET); the Singapore Exchange (SGX); Bursa Malaysia (MYX); and the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE). The two exchanges in Vietnam, unlike the neighboring LSX and CSX, are the best example of stock exchanges begun in the twenty-first century that are performing at, and in some ways exceeding, what a successful stock market exchange means for a developing country in Southeast Asia. The HNX and HoSE have become invaluable to both companies and investors of the capital market in Vietnam. What might indicate that the exchange in Yangon will follow the example in Vietnam as opposed to the one in Cambodia or Laos?

This article contends that despite the many challenges facing the introduction of a new stock exchange in Myanmar, the Yangon Stock Exchange will likely have more in common with… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Journal of Burma Studies by T. F. Rhoden; image-photo credit for this post via Frontier Myanmar. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Myanmar’s Stock Exchange: Open For Business And Soon To Foreign Investors

…Still, Myanmar had no market infrastructure to speak with, so Daiwa brought in the Japan Exchange Group as a partner, while the Japanese Ministry of Finance helped the Myanmar government draft up a new law to set up the creation of the bourse. According to Masutomo, JPX’s interest in Myanmar was due partly to the fact the Korean Stock Exchange, which had helped set up the Lao and Cambodian exchanges, was so ahead of them in the region.

Today, however, the Lao and Cambodian bourses are seen as a cautionary tale of what the Burmese exchange could become. Skeptics argue that YSX will likely mimic the fate of its neighbors, which both failed to take off after debuting to much acclaim. Each now holds less than 5 stocks.

For T. F. Rhoden, an independent researcher and doctoral candidate at Northern Illinois University, the comparison is misguided, as Myanmar’s population of 54 million people gives it a potential depth of domestic investors that’s much more comparable to Vietnam than Laos or Cambodia. In addition, Myanmar’s $64 billion economy is over three times the size of its smaller neighbors.

The more important lesson from the Lao and Cambodian exchanges is that their failure to enforce strong disclosure procedures and regulation destroyed their credibility. For emerging markets — whether in Asia or elsewhere — the need for international standards of accounting and disclosure is more than ever crucial.

The Yangon Stock Exchange has tried to push for higher standards by asking applicants to appoint compliance officers and set up systems to prevent insider trading, but without stringent regulation of the capital market, it likely won’t be enough.

“The two companies that have listed so far are… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Forbes by Fanny Potkin; photo image credit via WTOP. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence.

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