Friday, March 2, 2012

Can Malaysia’s leaders emulate the Myanmar political reform?

by Koon Yew Yin

One of the leading papers in the region, The Nation recently conducted an interview with Burmese President Thein Sein’s chief political adviser, Ko Ko Hlaing. In that exclusive interview, Ko Ko Hlaing told the Bangkok paper that Myanmar’s political reform is “irreversible” because of the president’s strong will.
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He stressed that the specific constitutional provision towards democracy, the Burmese people’s taste of new found freedom, and the need for the country to follow the international trend ensured that the reforms would have to proceed.
In the interview, he also gave an insider’s glimpse into the thinking and philosophy of the former strongman who ran of Myanmar for close to 20 years. According to him, senior General Than Shwe, following his resignation as head of state in 2011, was not running the country from behind the scenes as commonly alleged and would not be making a comeback.

“As a Buddhist, you can understand the mentality of an elderly Buddhist. You should understand also the mind of an old soldier – which is always the desire to accomplish his mission. After the mission is accomplished, he can take a rest. 

“[Than Shwe] had undertaken the responsibilities of the state for a long time, and there were many hardships, pressures and difficulties… He also laid down the conditions of democratic reform – the seven-step roadmap. He is now enjoying his retirement with his grand children.”

What was also striking to me was the way that Ko Ko Hlaing responded to the question of whether the military strongman was afraid to be taken to trial by a civilian government.
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Ko Ko Hlaing said: “This is a Buddhist country. Forgiveness is our principle. Also, Aung San Suu Kyi and the other opposition leaders, young and old have talked about forgiving, and forgetting the past and trying to do the best for the nation.”  

It may be necessary for me to explain why I am focusing on the subject of Myanmar’s political reform road map.  In a few weeks on April 1, my own road map for Malaysia contained in my book ‘Malaysia: Road Map for Achieving Vision 2020’ will be launched in Ipoh. The book details can be viewed at the publisher’s website shortly.

At the time that I wrote my book I did not refer to it as the Burmese reform process was still evolving. I also did not understand the situation in Myanmar as I was an outsider with little contact with its system of government.
During the last few months, that situation has changed dramatically for me. 

Arising from several visits to the country and my involvement in a development-cum-philanthropic undertaking I am pursuing there, I have been in personal contact with some of Myanmar’s top leaders and have been impressed by the remarkable progress of their political reform process as compared with Malaysia’s.

Now that I also have the benefit of this remarkable interview to draw upon in addition to my own personal experience in interacting with Myanmar’s leaders, I would encourage all Malaysians – especially our political leaders, including Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister Najib Razak and the opposition leaders to read carefully the interview and distil from it the lessons that are necessary for our own political reform process to have any chance of success.
To sum up, some of the lessons from Myanmar for us to follow are:
·         Reform must come from both a top down as well as a bottom up process.
·         Old leaders should give up trying to retain power or maintain influence after leaving office.
·         The ruling party must abide by and not undermine the constitutional provisions to a democracy
·         Media freedom and the end to censorship need to be placed in the forefront of the political reform agenda.
·         Lastly and most importantly, the nation’s interests should come ahead of individual or group interest.
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In the Buddhist philosophy, the feeling of a separate ‘I’ which we call ego consciousness is directly related to the strength of ignorance, greed, and hatred.

The deepest meaning of ignorance is the believing in, identifying with and clinging to the ego, which is nothing but an illusionary mental phenomenon. But because of this strong clinging to ego-consciousness, attachment/desire, anger/hatred arise and repeatedly gain strength. 

This ego and self-interest manifested in the material greed and weakness of leaders needs to be conquered if our country is to survive well.