Change Comes to Myanmar, but Only on the Junta’s Terms





In the dried mud of the Irrawaddy Delta, workers are welding together the final pieces of a natural-gas pipeline that the country’s ruling generals say will keep the lights on in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, after years of debilitating blackouts.

The pipeline near Pyapon will help keep Yangon's lights on.

Residents who for years were lucky to get eight hours of power a day may soon have the luxury of refrigerators that stay cold and televisions that stay on.

But it will not make much difference for one 64-year-old Yangon resident on a lakeside road blockaded by the police: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and this country’s best-known dissident, who lives in a blacked-out world, barred from most communication with anyone outside her walled compound. Her telephone line was cut years ago, and she has no computer or television, her lawyer said.

These are the dueling realities of Myanmar today. After years of deadlock and stagnation, change is coming, but strictly on the junta’s terms.

There is guarded hope among business people and diplomats that Myanmar, or Burma, as many people still call the country, may be gradually moving away from years of paranoid authoritarianism and Soviet-style economic management that has left the majority of the country’s 55 million people in dire poverty.

A new constitution is expected to be introduced later this year, and the junta is planning the first elections in two decades. Analysts say that the elections are not likely to be fully competitive or fair, but that they could move the military to decentralize some of its power.

“Burma is at a critical watershed,” said Thant Myint-U, a historian and former United Nations official who has written widely on the country. “We’re clearly moving towards something other than a strict army hierarchy with just one general at the top.”...


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