More about Myanmar

More about Myanmar

Bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, Myanmar is a land of great beauty full of golden pagodas. Previously known as Burma, the country has had a turbulent history yet it has still retained its mysticism and charm. 

Once it was a land of kings and queens whose ancient kingdoms have left traces in the landscape that can still be seen today.  Then the British came and, after three wars between 1824 to 1885, took over the country and sent the last king, King Thibaw, to exile in India. 

Burma became a major battle ground in World War Two; the Japanese advanced on the capital, Rangoon (now called Yangon) and the British administration collapsed.  Japan occupied Burma between 1942 and 1945, promising to grant independence to the country.  The Burmese realised that the promise of independence was a sham, joined the Allies, and together they pushed out the Japanese.

After the war, Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) led negotiations with the British for independence, which was granted in 1948.   Unfortunately, he was assassinated by political rivals in 1947.

In 1962, there was a coup d'état and the military, led by General Ne Win, took control of Burma and embarked on a socialist and isolationist policy.   Myanmar became one of the most impoverished countries in the world. There were occasional protests against the military rule, but the worst was in 1988 which was brutally supressed.  General Ne Win resigned but the country remained under martial law.

Free elections were held in 1990, the first time in 30 years, and the National League of Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, won by a landslide.  However, the result was not recognised by the military junta and they put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and the party was declared illegal. It was at this time that the country’s name was changed from Burma to Myanmar.

The military remained in power, in various guises, until 2011 when it started putting in place a series of democratic reforms including the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the release of political prisoners and the opening up the country to international investment.  General elections were held in 2015 which the National League of Democracy won.  U Htin Kyaw became the first non-military president since 1962 and Aung San Suu Kyi became the State Counsellor, similar to a Prime Minister.

Myanmar has been undergoing a slow transformation, albeit with some difficulties given there is still a power sharing arrangement with the military. There is ongoing conflict in the country between the ethnic minorities and the Burmese military, and the widely reported and internationally condemned Rohingya crisis. Aung San Suu Kyi’s governance has been criticised, but there has been greater political freedom, less censorship and a liberalised economy.  The country will be tested next year when general elections are held.

There are still significant difficulties to overcome in Myanmar, but despites all the challenges and conflict, the country retains its mysticism and beauty.

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