In 2010, Burma began the difficult transition from being a country run by military-dominated governments to a democratically-elected leadership that is representative of all its people. USIP, along with its lead partner Asia Society, and the Blue Moon Fund, provides advice and assistance on issues identified by the Burmese related to rule of law, religion and peacemaking, media and capacity building.
In November 2010, parliamentary elections, considered flawed by many in the international community, gave the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party more than 75 percent of the seats. The parliament convened in January 2011 and selected former Prime Minister Thein Sein as president.
However, contrary to expectations, Thein Sein's new civilian government embarked on implementing a broad agenda of political and social reforms during the remainder of 2011. These included relaxing press restrictions, releasing thousands of political prisoners in a general amnesty, enacting laws allowing for peaceful demonstrations and the formation of unions, and signing a ceasefire accord with Shan insurgents (a similar accord was reached with Karen rebels in January 2012). Most notably, government-imposed restrictions on opposition leader and chair of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi were further relaxed during the year, including her ability to meet freely with associates and travel around the country. In December 2011, the NLD was allowed to register as an official party and field candidates for parliamentary by-elections to be held on April 1, 2012. Aung San Suu Kyi vied for and won the open seat in her home city of Yangon. In all, NLD candidates won 43 of the 45 seats that were up for election.
Accompanying the domestic political and social changes in Burma were greater efforts to end the years of international isolation. Several high-level foreign officials visited in 2011 -- including U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met with Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein. Following these events, the United States Senate confirmed Derek Mitchell as the first U. S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years. The White House followed this with a statement concerning the easing of restrictions on business investment in Burma.
Moving forward, there are still many challenges in Burma's transition, including human rights abuses, additional political prisoners, ethnic violence and hardliners bent against change. However, the government of Burma is taking many of the right steps in addressing these issues in this ongoing process.
USIP-Asia Society-Blue Moon Fund Timeline
- In January 2012, USIP's Rule of Law Director Colette Rausch traveled to Burma as a part of an Asia Society delegation to Burma to engage in Track II dialogue with the Myanmar Development Resources Institute (MDRI), a new and independent think tank based in Yangon whose advisors provide policy advice on political, economic, and legal affairs to Burma's president.
- In April 2012, USIP co-hosted, with the Asia Society and Blue Moon Fund, a delegation of advisors to President Thein Sein. As a part of this series of meetings, USIP hosted a roundtable with government officials, individuals from the business sector, and experts on Burma.
- In June 2012, USIP co-hosted, with the Asia Society and Blue Moon Fund, a delegation from Burma of senior advisors to President Thein Sein. USIP also hosted another roundtable with government officials and Burma experts. In addition, the delegation met with representatives from Department of Justice, Department of State, and former White House officials.
- In June 2012, two representatives from MDRI traveled to USIP headquarters to participate in Academy courses on "Strengthening Capacity in a Reform Environment" and "Governance and Democratic Practices in War-to-Peace Transitions". The latter course was tailored to address the specific context of Burma.
- In September 2012, building on similar work and in partnership with the Asia Society and Blue Moon Fund, a USIP team will travel to Burma for consultations with Burmese government stakeholders on a range of issues.