Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Myanmar

Profile

Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
52,400,000
Capital: 
Nay Pyi Taw
GDP/capita: 
$1,161
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Status Change, Ratings Change:

Myanmar’s status improved from Not Free to Partly Free, and its political rights rating improved from 6 to 5, after lawmakers conducted the country’s first relatively free presidential election through an indirect vote by the parliament, and as the new government began work on a series of policy reforms aimed at improving civil liberties.

Overview: 

Myanmar’s transition from military dictatorship toward democracy is ongoing, with relatively free parliamentary elections in 2015 ushering in a peaceful transfer of power to the National League for Democracy (NLD). However, ethnic peace remains elusive as military offensives and other violent conflicts offset a government push for more comprehensive negotiations with ethnic armed groups. Persecution of the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority has created sustained refugee outflows.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • Following the NLD’s overwhelming victory in 2015 parliamentary elections, the ruling Union and Solidarity Development Party (USDP) and military representatives accepted the results, setting the stage for a peaceful transfer of political power. The NLD-led parliament held its opening session in February and elected the country’s new president in March.
  • Over the military’s objections, in April the parliament installed NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi—who was constitutionally barred from the presidency—in the newly created post of state counselor, granting her authority to direct policies not under military jurisdiction.
  • The government took several steps that signaled an opening of associational and organizational space, including scrapping the restrictive Emergency Provisions Act, releasing dozens of students who had been arrested the previous year on unlawful assembly charges, and engaging with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
  • The NLD government’s push for the creation of a more comprehensive peace mechanism was hampered by military offensives against various ethnic rebel groups, attacks by such groups against security forces, and continued divisions among signatories and nonsignatories to a 2015 national cease-fire agreement.
Executive Summary: 

The USDP and military representatives accepted the results of parliamentary elections held in 2015, permitting a historic transfer of political power to an NLD-dominated parliament, which opened its first session in February 2016. In March, Htin Kyaw, the NLD’s primary presidential candidate, won the presidency with 360 of the 652 parliamentary votes cast in the country’s first relatively free presidential election. Days later, NLD lawmakers approved a bill that elevated party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was constitutionally barred from running for the presidency because members of her immediate family hold foreign citizenship, to the newly created and powerful position of state counselor. The USDP condemned the move as an improper consolidation of power.

The NLD government in 2016 took a series of actions that indicated an opening of associational and organizational space following decades of military dictatorship. Government representatives made efforts to engage with civil society groups, in particular by holding consultations regarding the implementation of laws on NGO registration. In April, a court ordered the release of 69 students who had been arrested the previous year on unlawful assembly charges, and in October, the government repealed the Emergency Provisions Act, which the military government had frequently employed to jail political activists. However, concerns about freedom of expression persisted amid a spike in prosecutions for online defamation under the 2013 Telecommunications Law.

Separately, while corruption remained rampant at both the national and local levels, the new NLD government took modest steps to address the problem. In April, Aung San Suu Kyi issued an official regulation banning civil servants from accepting gifts worth more than 25,000 kyat ($21).

The NLD government struggled to negotiate a more comprehensive peace agreement with the many ethnic armed groups in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi convened a high-profile peace conference in August, though officials later downplayed it as a trust-building exercise for the hundreds of delegates who attended. Military offensives against various ethnic rebel groups, and attacks by such groups against security forces, continued. In October, armed men attacked police posts in Rakhine State, killing nine officers; officials blamed the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO), a militant group that was active in the 1980s and 1990s. Security forces subsequently launched violent reprisals against the local Rohingya Muslim population, which reportedly included torture and rape, worsening the community’s already dire humanitarian situation and causing a new outflow of refugees to Bangladesh. Separately, activists continued to report abuses by the military against civilians in Northern Shan and Kachin States, where fighting between armed groups and state forces has increased in recent years.

Aggregate Score: 
32
Freedom Rating: 
5.0
Political Rights: 
5
Civil Liberties: 
5

Report Navigation

Myanmar

Country Reports