Can Malaysia’s leaders emulate Myanmar’s political reform?

— Koon Yew Yin
The Malaysian Insider
Mar 02, 2012

MARCH 2 — One of the leading papers in the region, The Nation, recently conducted an interview with Myanmar President Thein Sein’s chief political adviser, Ko Ko Hlaing. In that exclusive interview, Ko Ko Hlaing told the Bangkok paper that Myanmar’s political reform is “irreversible” because of the president’s strong will.

He stressed that the specific constitutional provision towards democracy, the Myanmar people’s taste of newfound freedom, and the need for the country to follow the international trend ensured that the reforms would have to proceed.

In the interview, he also gave an insider’s glimpse into the thinking and philosophy of the former strongman who ran of Myanmar for close to 20 years. According to him, Senior General Than Shwe, following his resignation as head of state in 2011, was not running the country from behind the scenes as commonly alleged and would not be making a comeback.

“As a Buddhist, you can understand the mentality of an elderly Buddhist. You should understand also the mind of an old soldier — which is always the desire to accomplish his mission. After the mission is accomplished, he can take a rest.

“[Than Shwe] had undertaken the responsibilities of the state for a long time, and there were many hardships, pressures and difficulties… He also laid down the conditions of democratic reform — the seven-step roadmap. He is now enjoying his retirement with his grandchildren.”

What was also striking to me was the way that Ko Ko Hlaing responded to the question of whether the military strongman was afraid to be taken to trial by a civilian government.

Ko Ko Hlaing said: “This is a Buddhist country. Forgiveness is our principle. Also, Aung San Suu Kyi and the other opposition leaders, young and old, have talked about forgiving and forgetting the past, and trying to do the best for the nation.”

It may be necessary for me to explain why I am focusing on the subject of Myanmar’s political reform road map. In a few weeks, on April 1, my own road map for Malaysia contained in my book “Malaysia: Road Map for Achieving Vision 2020” will be launched in Ipoh. The book details can be viewed at the publisher’s website shortly.

At the time that I wrote my book I did not refer to it as the Myanmar reform process was still evolving. I also did not understand the situation in Myanmar as I was an outsider with little contact with its system of government.

During the last few months, that situation has changed dramatically for me. Arising from several visits to the country and my involvement in a development-cum-philanthropic undertaking I am pursuing there, I have been in personal contact with some of Myanmar’s top leaders and have been impressed by the remarkable progress of their political reform process compared with Malaysia’s.

Now that I also have the benefit of this remarkable interview to draw upon in addition to my own personal experience in interacting with Myanmar’s leaders, I would encourage all Malaysians, especially our political leaders, including Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister Najib Razak and the opposition leaders to read carefully the interview and distil from it the lessons that are necessary for our own political reform process to have any chance of success.

To sum up, some of the lessons from Myanmar for us to follow are:

● Reform must come from both a top-down as well as a bottom-up process.

● Old leaders should give up trying to retain power or maintain influence after leaving office.

● The ruling party must abide by and not undermine the constitutional provisions to a democracy

● Media freedom and the end to censorship need to be placed in the forefront of the political reform agenda.

● Lastly and most importantly, the nation’s interests should come ahead of individual or group interest.

In Buddhist philosophy, the feeling of a separate “I” which we call ego consciousness is directly related to the strength of ignorance, greed, and hatred.

The deepest meaning of ignorance is the believing in, identifying with and clinging to the ego, which is nothing but an illusionary mental phenomenon. But because of this strong clinging to ego-consciousness, attachment/desire, anger/hatred arise and repeatedly gain strength.

This ego and self-interest manifested in the material greed and weakness of leaders needs to be conquered if our country is to survive well.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 4:23 pm

    It is not possible for Najib to embark on reform as many Umno warlords still want to take advantage of the NEP. They will not be able to obtain contracts, perks and special NEP privileges should Najib open the floodgate of reform.

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 4:35 pm

    How many Malay leaders have the courage to do away with the NEP in the nation’s history? These leaders knew that their positions in Umno would crumble once they dismantled the NEP.

  3. #3 by monsterball on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 4:52 pm

    Dictators in Myanmar are more god fearing and humane than UMNO b little napoleons.
    They are similar….but our Muslim dictators are more greedy for money than Buddhist dictators.
    Same as you can see China compared to Gadaffi or Sadam.
    And the Arabs in Turkey are sick of Muslim dictators destroying their religion.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 5:47 pm

    To be sure, the pace of political reform process in Myanmar is “fast” – release of political prisoners and Suu Kyi who could contest under her party (NLD)- and it raises optimism and hope. However don’t forget what the enlightened Buddha said, “Do not go by reflecting on mere appearances”. Only time, as proven by deeds, will tell whether Myanmar’s democratisation will entrench or reverse. I like to thing that this democatisation trend has nothing to do with the Buddhist faith or triumph of forgiveness over the “id” (ego & selfishness). When it comes to power money and vested interest, more often than not men use religion (in general) and its teachings for justifying their ends and rarely guided by positives of its teachings to do the right thing! If they change for the better there are always some underlying pragmatic real politic reasons than just mere moral imperatives as dictated by their religion! There is of course one more factor dictating the course and fate of nations – the “X factor” ie the personality/character of the power player in charge in that moment of history.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 6:06 pm

    Myanmar’s political transition reposes on “X” factor of who this current leader Thein Sein is or will be. He is the one responsible to give Myanmar the reformist face. He freed political prisoners and Suu Kyi. He talked of democary in international forums. He got his smooth talking (chief adviser) Ko Ko Hlaing to charm and convince foreigners like our Mr Koon on Buddhist forgiveness! Of course he would talk of forgiveness: how to convince the rest of his military cohorts (esp Than Shwe) to relax grip if they talk of revenge instead of forgiveness? [Mr Koon should remember being Buddhist country does not necessarily implies its teachings are embraced without manipulation owing to Man’s duplicity. In Buddhist Cambodia Kymer regime committed genocide on millions of Sangha; even in Myanmar how many monks were persecuted & killed by the military junta? Didn’t Buddhists wearing red-and-yellow shirts” in Bangkok fight it out leading to killings even on monastic grounds? Islam is a religion of Peace but didn’t Muslims fight one another in large swathes of Middle East?] So don’t bring in Religion : focus on the X Factor – Thein Sein, and the stuff he’s made of.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 6:28 pm

    Thein Sein is shrewd strategist, otherwise he could not have manoeuvered Than Shwe & his ilk to realise his ambition to become Junta leader/president with a chance to make a difference. The rest are just tired, fed up of sanctions and isolation : they just want to retire with their loot without accountability and the hope Thein Sein could lay the groundwork for amnesty binding any civil administration after Thein Sein. For that our Thein Sein must forge a painless transition, spin a good tale about how junta for 20+ years have to be cruel to be kind to keep Myanmar’s territorial integrity and the country from fragmanting – broker the peace & national reconciliation so to speak! Has Thien Sein the stuff to make a successful transformational leader at this point of time in Myanmar’s history? The X transformational leadership factor in other cases are: China’s Deng Xiaoping & US Nixon in oprning China, South Africa’s De Klerk & Mendela in dismanting Apartheid, Gorbachev & Boris Yeltsin in dismantling totalitarian Soviet Empire. Will there be a corresponding Thein Sein & Suu Kyi partnership? The process of Myanmar’s democratisation depends on this “X factor” than Buddhist’s forgiveness and suppression of the “id” ! So don’t look at our situation and ask our leaders to follow & ponder. Firstly this is not a Buddhist country; secondly no transformational leader in sight here!

  7. #7 by Jeffrey on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 6:46 pm

    We can’t emulate because no transformational leader has appeared here. (Down south, maybe in LKY, Indonesia possibly Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono). Here the nearest to a minor “transformational” leader is Dr Mahathir but on balance he transformed the country for the worse….and there’s none (at least for now) with necessary vested power, verve, duplicity, guts and daring, sheer raw will and force of personality and ability to tame conflicting forces and vested interest, who is able to set the national compass right and steer it away, in reversal of its present inexorable course to a failed state.

  8. #8 by Loh on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 6:55 pm

    Thein Sein can effect reform because there is no the like of Perkasa in Myanmar supported by Than Shwe.

    Reform in Myanmar is possible because the people are not divided by race or religion. They share one destiny. Here in Malaysia the cunning racial opportunist, Mamakthir, started to brainwash Malays right from the reign of Tunku. Malays now accept power-sharing; the leaders get the lion share, they get the crumbs so long as non-Malays get nothing.

    The leaders in Myanmar at last find that their personal interest could coincide with that of national interest. But here Mamakthir considered migrating if Anwar became PM. Malaysia is just a corporation for them to loot.

    The only chance for Malaysia is to have UMNO defeated in GE and all those corrupted go to jail. Rule of law does not forgive wrong doings.

  9. #9 by undertaker888 on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 6:57 pm

    My goodness, have we sunk so low that we need to imitate Myanmar? These umno and bn juntas are a bunch of dictators under the guise of democracy.

  10. #10 by Winston on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 7:26 pm

    One thing should be very clear about the whole Myanmar
    On the surface, it seems that the dictators who ruled the country
    have changed their spots.
    It’s more likely that they are playing on the naivety and
    fear of he people to pull a fast one on them.
    This regime had for decades been treating its people very badly
    and have taken all the country’s riches for themselves while the
    people remained dirt poor.
    In fact, most of them can afford only Japanese sandals!!
    Just the wedding of one of the leaders daughters was enough to
    illustrate this.
    The daughter of the dictator was decked by a diamond necklace
    that covered her whole neck!!!
    Now, they have worked out an ideal retirement plan that will make
    them very popular, especially with the West, and at the same time,
    very beneficial to them.
    And that is to call for forgiveness from the people.
    That way, they get to keep their ill-gotten gains and escape
    punishment as well!!!
    Don’t forget that complete military power is still in the junta’s
    So this is indeed an offer that Myanmars cannot refuse – Mafia
    The truth is that the Myanmars are badly short-changed!!!

  11. #11 by negarawan on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 9:31 pm

    Lynas Corp has been told to relocate its residue disposal site further away from its Gebeng plant and local communities, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. The move, he added, was made after taking into consideration the psychological and emotional effects on the community. “The location is still being determined but it is going to be far away,” he said.
    Najip is not fit to be a PM. What does he mean by “People First” when what he is practicing is “Me First” and “Money First”. UMNO is useless and corrupted to the core. We don’t need UMNO in Malaysia!

  12. #12 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Friday, 2 March 2012 - 11:28 pm

    Jib is a chameleon. Never forget that. Put him next to the Burmese military leaders jib would be saying all the right things about reform. Just like a school kid’s response to a question on moral. He is only good for a laugh. Because he never meant what he said nor said what he meant.

  13. #13 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 3 March 2012 - 10:29 am

    What Myanmar has done is reformasi. Najib one is transform-lagi-mati..? How can compare?

  14. #14 by sotong on Saturday, 3 March 2012 - 12:39 pm

    ” This is a Buddhist country. Forgiveness is our principle “.

    Anyone using religion to defend bad leader/s cannot be trusted!

  15. #15 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Saturday, 3 March 2012 - 2:04 pm

    Hey dont compare man. Burma is under military rule. Malaysia under umno is the best democracy is the world. There is emulation to talk about. If at all it will be for burma to emulate umno. Yes, Jib clearly the best!

    Jib Jib Boleh!
    Ros Ros Cantik!


    … oooouch.

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