Day 1 of a New Era

By The Irrawaddy 1 April 2016

RANGOON — This morning, Burma wakes up to a new era under a National League for Democracy-led government, which was sworn in on Wednesday but did not officially take up its duties in full until today.

No one underestimates the size of the tasks ahead. The new government starts its work laden with enormous inherited challenges, including the constitutional limits to its powers, but it is also armed with a huge electoral mandate and a reservoir of public and international goodwill.

The hard graft now begins. On this remarkable day—the result of last November’s vote, when the people voted en masse for change—we briefly revisit just a few of the priorities the NLD laid out in its 25-page election manifesto, which it must now set out to achieve.

In the big picture, the manifesto states that “it is time to change the lives of our people.” That means the NLD will “strive for a) Ethnic affairs and internal peace, b) a Constitution that ensures that all the people of our country can live together in tranquility, c) a system of government that will fairly and justly defend the people and d) the freedom and security to prosper.”

Those are the main, broad and admittedly ambitions. Below are 12 more specific policy picks, in the NLD’s own words, from various categories of the manifesto:

Ethnic Affairs and Peace: Work to ensure a fair distribution across the country of the profits from natural resource extraction, in accordance with the principles of a federal union.

System of government: Establish a judicial system that is fair and unbiased. …  The judiciary must stand independently and on an equal footing with the legislative and executive branches.

Foreign Policy: To have close and strong relations with the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other such organizations. …  To give particular emphasis to the role of civil society organizations in communicating with the international community.

The EconomyWe will give genuine independent authority to the Central Bank. We will strive for monetary stability and the development of a financing system that can provide for capital financing requirements, including for local business owners, owners of SMEs, entrepreneurs, and farmers.

Agriculture: We will work towards the development of a modern farming sector, the fair resolution of farmland disputes, the establishment of land tenure security, and transparency in line with laws and regulations regarding the protection and transfer of farmland.

Natural Resource Extraction and Use:  We will work to ensure that extractive projects are planned transparently and that the public is informed. We will establish a dedicated fund to ensure that the profits of such projects are used for the long-term development of the country.

Education: [We will] Develop dedicated education programs for children who face difficulties in gaining a primary-level education, such as children with mental or physical disabilities, children living in poverty, and children living in remote areas. …  Ensure that universities have autonomy over their own curriculum and governance, and the ability to conduct independent research.

Health: We will increase the national health budget, and enable a reduction in the level of out-of-pocket expenditure incurred by the public for medical treatment.

Energy: The construction of the large dams required for the production of hydropower causes major environmental harm. For this reason, we will generate electricity from existing hydropower projects, and repair and maintain the existing dams to enable greater efficiency. … For household electricity production, we will encourage the systematic development of small private energy production enterprises such as solar energy, biogas, rice-husk fuel, and mini-hydropower systems.

Sharing of Environmental Resources:  We will eradicate the monopolistic management and unfair distribution and usage of natural resources. …  We will establish a system that can resolve environmental disputes.

Women: We will work to ensure that female workers receive the same compensation as their male counterparts for equivalent work, and that there is no gender discrimination with regard to workplace promotions.

Communications: We will ensure that the public is informed in a transparent manner about the activities of the three branches of government. …  We will support the rights of television and radio broadcasters, print media [magazines, journals, newspapers, etc], and telephone and internet service providers to compete openly on the free market.

The items above were chosen from various categories of the manifesto. The full document should be consulted to gain the precise context of each item. Available on the NLD’s website, the manifesto remains a useful guide to the new government’s ambitions, and a yardstick against which its future performance may be measured.

May the work begin!