Amid the chaos and appalling human rights abuses faced by Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims today, it is worth remembering that this week, Myanmar’s government ought to have been considering how best to implement the recommendations of ex-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. You can read my full article at The Global Post. The Global Post ‘How Militants Blew Chance To Improve Rights of Rohingya Muslims’
Here is a link to my latest article “The Dark Side of Liberalization” published in the journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09596410.2016.1159045
ABSTRACT: This article describes how divisive groups have taken advantage of Myanmar’s new political and media freedoms to pursue an agenda that will limit the civil and political rights of the country’s Muslim population. The article argues that enforcement of the four Protection of Race and Religion Laws will disadvantage Myanmar’s already politically marginalized Muslim residents by creating a de facto religious test for full Myanmar citizenship rights. The article examines both the positive and negative aspects of Myanmar’s liberalizations, the nature of the ‘Protection of Race and Religion’ legislative package and how this will interact with Myanmar’s citizenship laws.
‘It’s a genocide’, was the conclusion of two recent research reports about the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Yet despite disturbing conclusions both reports have been criticised for their use of inflammatory language and their pre-election timing. Some argue the publication of a ‘genocide’ conclusion makes it harder to resolve the underlying causes of the Rohingya’s persecution. This article suggests these reports, despite the criticisms, highlight a human rights tragedy that needs to be publicised but that solving this tragedy must involve going beyond labels. Instead, a resolution and peace require working with both major ethnic communities in Rakhine State. Read my full article at E-IR here: http://www.e-ir.info/2016/01/24/reports-on-genocide-in-myanmar-highlight-the-need-for-change/
New article by me and Dr Anthony Ware about how tapping into the reserves of goodwill that still exist in Rakhine State could be key to ending the Rohingya conflict. Article available at The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/Reserves of goodwill-new-leaders-could-end-rohingya-conflict-by-tapping-into-reserves-of-goodwill-51465
Very happy to have delivered a paper at the recent International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies at Chiang Mai University ‘Burma/Myanmar in Transition: Connectivity, Changes and Challenges’.
My paper, “Holding Back the Tide: Can Myanmar’s Democratic Political Leaders Prevent a de facto Religious Test for Full Citizenship Rights?” addressed the rise of Buddhist nationalism, discriminatory government policies and how I believe this is changing the nature of Myanmar citizenship. It was part of the Ethnic Politics and Minorities panel, chaired by Dr Jacques Leider, with Dr Matthew Walton acting as discussant.
Dr Daw Khin Mar Mar Kyi and Derina Johnson @Derina_Johnson were discussants in the panel Crossing Frontiers: Multiplication of Burmese Migration in Asia.
More details about the conference including links to draft conference papers can be found here.
Here is my latest column for the New Straits Times about why Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent about the circumstances of the Muslim Rohingya: Why Aung San Suu Kyi stays silent
You can read my piece for The Conversation ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea: the Rohingya’s dilemma’ here.
First published by Mizzima Weekly on May 14 and online May 20.
Recent events reveal surprising insights into which national political figures are most engaged with the democratic challenge of Myanmar’s ‘vote winning’ process. These insights challenge the expectation of the national election is a lopsided political battle between U Thein Sein’s government and an overwhelmingly popular Daw Aung San Suu Kyi led opposition, with ethnic minority parties campaigning principally on the periphery.
At this point in the electoral cycle, President U Thein Sein appears the most politically savvy of the major players as he actively engages in winning domestic support and votes—suggesting a sincere commitment to the democratic process. Meanwhile, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy should be mindful that they have the most to lose if they stick to their strategy of threatened electoral non-participation without constitutional change.
Read the full article at Mizzima.com here.
Here is a link to my latest article. Published in the journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/AIExfyxdwswI6nJRRBAc/full#.U3yq8CyKCP8
ABSTRACT: In Myanmar (also known as Burma), the Rohingya are a persecuted Muslim minority living mainly in northern Rakhine State. Aung San Suu Kyi, the iconic leader of Myanmar’s opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD), is championed as the voice of the people. However, on the matter of the Rohingya’s persecution she has been notably silent. This article examines the possible reasons for Suu Kyi’s silence and argues that Buddhist–Muslim political relations in Myanmar are central to understanding the reasons behind Suu Kyi’s position on the Rohingya. It is suggested that various factors, including the history of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the NLD’s attitude towards the Rohingya, Suu Kyi’s sense of obligation to her father’s political legacy, and Suu Kyi’s views on ethnicity, are creating a political environment in which Suu Kyi is presented with pragmatic political reasons for staying silent. Given Suu Kyi has the potential to become a future national leader, an understanding of her behaviours towards a sizeable persecuted Muslim minority is important. This is particularly the case when consideration is given to the contemporary pressures on Muslims to embrace radical politics and the implications this could have for Myanmar and the region.
Despite being well intentioned, the abolition of the Queensland Parliament’s upper house has had a negative and lasting effect on public policy and there are important lessons that can be learned from this Australian state’s experience.
In the early 1920s Queensland was in parliamentary turmoil. The recently born Labour Party had established itself as the political majority in the state but its legislation was regularly frustrated by the state’s upper house, the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council’s conservative majority maintained its position courtesy of a process of appointment that saw members serve indefinitely.
Labour attempted to break the impasse by first legislating the Council out of existence and when this failed (the Council unsurprisingly, rejected the Bills), appealed to the public at a referendum, unsuccessfully. Ultimately, the Labour government swamped the Legislative Council with new appointments – the so called ‘suicide squad’ who voted the abolition of the body in 1921.
Queensland’s State Parliament became one of the few in the world to abolish its Upper House and since has operated as a unicameral legislature.
The abolition of the Legislative Council was hailed as a chance for government in Queensland to function as the people wanted – their democratic will could be enacted without the hassle and cost imposed by the state’s house of review.
For a time this was precisely the case. A backlog of legislation became law including the creation of one of the world’s first workers’ compensation schemes. However, since the 1920s the lack of any meaningful parliamentary review of government decisions contributed to a centralisation of government decision-making powers into the hands of an executive that knew its decisions would receive limited parliamentary scrutiny.
In recent decades, this lack of parliamentary oversight combined with the trend in modern-politics for centralisation of power with presidential-style campaigns, political party power structures concentrating power into the hands of the top-tier leadership and a media cycle that reinforces this has seen increasingly poor government decisions made yet receive the Parliament’s stamp of approval.
In Queensland’s case, at its worst, this manifested in 32 years of unbroken rule by a right-wing party supported by a minority of the state’s voters but maintained in power by electoral boundaries endorsed by the unicameral parliament which guaranteed the re-election of the government despite receiving a significantly lower share of the vote than its opponents; bans on peaceful political protests; endemic police and political corruption; and, for three decades, a scandalously underfunded health and education sector. For much of the 1970s and 1980s the state was known as much for its lack of civil liberties and its police and political corruption as it was for its idyllic beaches and sunny weather.
My experience serving in Queensland’s unicameral parliament for three terms was fortunately not during this era but still the shadow a weakened parliament hung over all government decision making and oversight. Queensland’s unicameral parliament simply does not provide for the parliamentary opportunity to scrutinise Ministerial decisions to the degree that should be the case. And neither could does a unicameral parliament’s committee system allow for adequate scrutiny of legislation. Lack of oversight and increasing centralisation of political decision making contributed to a sidelining of diverse voices and ideas.
The government groupthink that takes hold in such circumstances inevitably results in poor policy decisions. In Queensland’s case, the most striking of these involves poor spending decisions that committed the government to billion dollar road construction projects when, for a fraction of the cost, there were public transport solutions. Today, Queenslanders are suffering from a budget crisis, service and public service job cuts, significantly contributed to by poor government spending decisions such as these a decade ago.
Modern Parliaments need more rather than less diversity and more representatives with the time to pursue issues in depth and without the constraints of stifling party discipline. In contemporary parliaments this is a role most easily fulfilled by an upper house – in Ireland’s case, Seanad Éireann.
The notion that the Seanad is beyond repair says more about the administrative capacity of the government to manage this reform than it does about the Seanad. Far too many political problems are caused by decision makers not listening to the community and it is not going to give us better policy outcomes if political leaders have even less requirement to listen to people’s voices.
My experience in the Queensland parliament was that a unicameral parliament cannot deliver the necessary scrutiny of government decisions and I’m a big believer in the importance of a having a house of review in every Parliament. Queensland’s state parliament is one of the few in history to abolish its upper house – and in public policy terms the experience has been far from positive.
The diaspora does not get a formal say in the Seanad referendum, all we can offer is our advice and experience. In this case my experience says – keep the Seanad, reform it and use it to hold the government to account.