Myanmar – Opening Up To the West and Moving Towards Democracy


Myanmar, once called Burma, has been one of the most isolated countries in the world. However, since March 2011, when Myanmar’s first civilian government in decades took office, it has been moving towards democracy, if only one small step at a time.

After decades of authoritarian rule, Myanmar’s military has decided to step down from power. Most generals have realized that the country has, economically, fallen behind their neighbors. They have decided to open themselves to the western world and end the economic sanctions that have been in place for some time. Many citizens in Myanmar, however, are skeptical. They think that once the country has been accepted in the west the political tide will turn against them.

In the last 5 decades Myanmar has developed into one of the most backward countries in Asia. Its people are among the poorest. Schools do not have enough teachers and some universities have been closed because of possible student unrest. Buildings need to be repaired , most of the infrastructure is old-fashioned and goes back to British colonial rule. Many Burmese fled the country and are living in exile somewhere else.


Myanmar map

Myanmar's location in Asia


All over the country signs of democracy have emerged. Hundreds of political prisoners have been set free. Myanmar’s media has received more freedom, although it is still controlled by the government.

The government is allowing trade unions to form. Environmental and human rights organizations have sprung up all over the country. People are not scared of the military any more. They actually believe in democratic reforms and that their life is about to change for the better.

The military leaders have released Myanmar’s most prominent opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest after 15 years. She is a very popular figure in the country, mainly because her father was one of the founders of the Burmese army and was killed shortly before the country got its independence from Great Britain in 1948. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight against military leaders in 1991. The opposition leader hopes that the military will help her change the face of Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi wants to wake up her people and tell them that the time has come to take responsibility for their future. Her party, the National League for Democracy, was not allowed to take part in the general election of 2010 but will play a role in future elections in Myanmar.


Aung San Suu Kyi - leader of the opposition

Aung San Suu Kyi - leader of the opposition - Htoo Tay Zar


Of the many problems that face the new government in Burma, two stand out. For over 15 years Myanmar’s leaders have been looking to China for help, especially after economic sanctions had been placed on them. Chinese businessmen and companies have invested heavily in Myanmar. And the Chinese have also supplied the military junta with weapons. In return the Chinese were allowed to build a vital pipeline through Myanmar, which transports oil and gas back to Central China.

Myanmar has strained its relationship with China, especially after a contract for a hydroelectric power station near the China-Burmese border had been signed. Critics say that most of the electricity will go to China while Burma itself will profit only little. On the other side China has warned Myanmar not to open up too much to western influence.

Another problem that the government faces is the conflict with its ethnic minorities, which make up a third of the population. Political experts claim that peace and stability will come to the Southeast Asian country only if it can settle the disputes with its minorities.

Even though there are signs of Myanmar’s new direction towards democracy, many things need to be done before the west is willing to invest large amounts of money in the country. Mobile phone connections lag behind, the Internet is very slow and banking system is out-of-date. Railroads, airports and roads desperately need overhauling. But western countries, nevertheless, are keeping an eye on Myanmar. It has oil and gas reserves, as well as timber and valuable metals. With a population of 60 million it is one of the big markets in Asia.



  • accept = believed to be right
  • although = while
  • amount = sum
  • authoritarian rule = a government that tells people what to do and punishes them if they do not obey the laws, especially those that are wrong or unfair
  • backward = developing very slowly or not at all
  • citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • civilian = not military
  • claim = to say officially
  • colonial rule = when a European country controls an area far away
  • contract = a written agreement
  • decade = a period of ten years
  • desperately = very much
  • dispute = conflict, problem
  • economically = about the economy
  • emerge = come up
  • environment = the world around us
  • especially = above all
  • ethnic minority = a group of people of a different race from the main group who lives in a country
  • exile = a situation in which you must leave your country for political reasons
  • face = deal with
  • flee – fled = escape
  • for the better = to improve
  • founder = a person who started something
  • future = coming
  • general election = an election in which all the people of a country can vote
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • heavily = very much
  • house arrest = to be kept as a prisoner in your own house
  • however = but
  • human rights = the basic rights that everyone should have, like the right to vote or the right to say what you want
  • hydroelectric power station = a building that produces electricity from water power
  • in place = in effect
  • independence = freedom
  • infrastructure = basic systems that a country needs , like transportation, schools, banks etc…
  • isolated = cut off
  • lag = here: not as good as
  • little = not very much
  • mainly = for the most part
  • media = radio, television and newspapers
  • military = army
  • military junta = government of army officers who have not been elected by the people
  • nevertheless = but
  • open up = here: when you let the people have more rights and freedom
  • out-of-date = not modern ; something that should not be used anymore
  • overhaul = changes that have to be made in order for something to work
  • political prisoner = someone who is locked up because they have opposed the government or have criticized it
  • popular = liked and well known
  • population = the people who live in a country
  • prominent = famous
  • realize = to find out
  • receive = get
  • release = to set free
  • repair = fix
  • responsibility = to be in control and make decisions
  • sanction = an official order that stops trade between two countries ,as a way of forcing a country’s leaders to make political changes
  • scared = to be afraid
  • sign = mark, signal
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • skeptical = doubtful, not sure
  • stability = the situation of being stable; not change
  • stand out = are most important
  • step down = give up; let someone else take over
  • strain = to cause problems
  • supply = provide, give
  • tide = here: the way in which people’s opinions are developing
  • timber = trees that produce wood
  • towards = in a certain direction
  • trade union = organization that represents workers and their rights
  • unrest = conflict
  • valuable = expensive, important
  • vital = very important
  • weapon = something that you use to fight or attack someone with, like a knife, a bomb or a gun