Government launches series of press conferences aimed at explaining its agenda
Barely six months into a five-year term, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is facing a barrage of criticism at home and abroad over everything from the slow pace of change in the country to the democracy icon’s handling of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts.
The fledgling government, which Friday marked 100 days of policy-making, is responding with a renewed attempt at engagement: a series of press conferences aimed at explaining its agenda.
“People’s expectations [for the government] are too high,” U Kyaw Zay Ya, a spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Friday, though he added that he was happy with the government’s performance so far.
“I am really disappointed in her,” said Aung Myint, a businessman and resident of the commercial capital Yangon. Mr. Aung Myint, 45, said he hoped to see more interaction with the public and more economic progress.
In late July, the government published long-awaited economic-policy goals, but they lacked financial specifics and detail on implementation.
Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept to victory late last year in an election that marked the end of five decades of isolationist military rule. The result was welcomed as one of the greatest examples of a peaceful transition to democracy in modern times.
But since then, the Nobel laureate has been dogged by allegations of micromanagement and criticized for failing to take a strong stand on Myanmar’s violent ethnic conflicts. She has rarely appeared in public since her government took office at the end of March and it is unclear if she will appear at any of the government’s planned press conferences.
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“Before they came to power the NLD always talked about transparency and a better relationship between media and government, but after they took over the government’s duties I think they failed in this issue,” said Ye Htut, who was spokesman for former President Thein Sein and is now a visiting senior fellow at the Singapore-based research organization Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.
Constitutionally barred from becoming president, Ms. Suu Kyi took on the newly created position of state counselor, which effectively puts her—in her own words–”above the president.”
Her supporters acknowledge that the first few months have been tough, but say she needs more time.
“It’s been a necessarily slow start but I’m fond of saying that it’s better to do things right than rushed,” said Sean Turnell, an academic at Macquarie University in Australia who is an economic adviser to Ms. Suu Kyi’s government and expects to take a formal position in her government later this year.
Mr. Turnell said a huge amount of work had already been done since the NLD took power in reforming the tax system, liberalizing the country’s nascent financial sector and drafting new laws on foreign direct investment, especially related to infrastructure.
Much of Myanmar’s economic and transport infrastructure dates back to a colonial period under the British, which ended with independence in 1948. Power cuts in Yangon are frequent, and many rural areas remain almost entirely untouched by modern amenities.
Despite the slow start on the policy front, Myanmar’s economy grew 7% between 2015 and 2016, according to the World Bank, one of the fastest rates in Asia. It is projected to grow 7.8% between this year and next. Foreign direct investment has soared and foreign companies such as Norway’s Telenor Group and U.S. giants Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric Corp. have established a presence in the country.
Politically, Ms. Suu Kyi has faced criticism from abroad related to her stance on Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts. In May, the Foreign Ministry she heads advised embassies to stop using the term “Rohingya” to describe the country’s stateless Muslim minority, a position that was seen as siding with hard-line Buddhists. Her government is planning a separate peace process to bring together Myanmar’s divided ethnic groups.
She has also been faulted for taking on too much—she holds two cabinet posts as well as the State Counselor position—and for failing to delegate. Officials in Ms. Suu Kyi’s government say she is happy to take on the multiple roles.
While an optimistic tone on the street about Ms. Suu Kyi’s government has dulled since she took office, many citizens acknowledge that progress takes time. Mg Mg Aung, a resident of Yangon, said that he had expectations from Ms. Suu Kyi’s government that were too high. While he has been disappointed in the government’s performance so far, “I think it can be difficult [for the government] to do everything in a very short time,” he said.