Podcast: Myanmar’s “Democratic” Reform

Play Button Pause Button
0:00 0:00
Episode Guests
  • Elizabeth C. Economy
    Senior Fellow for China Studies

Show Notes

Earlier this week, as the latest stop on an historic visit to the United States, Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi made her first official appearance before the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Last week she met with U.S. President Barack Obama, who announced plans to lift sanctions on Myanmar to ensure that “the people of Burma see rewards from a new way of doing business and a new government.” But are Myanmar’s citizens really experiencing a “new government,” and is Aung San Suu Kyi’s political performance measuring up to her renown as a symbol for democratic change?

On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Marie Lall, professor at the University College London and author of Understanding Reform in Myanmar: People and Society in the Wake of Military Rule, presents an account of Myanmar’s political transition that, while recognizing advances in political reform, nonetheless raises concerns about the common narrative. Lall describes Myanmar’s roadmap to democracy as the ruling junta’s “retirement package,” which ensures a peaceful political evolution while preserving the military’s say in important parliamentary decisions. Additionally, the openness and transparency the Burmese people expected under a National League for Democracy (NLD)–led government have yet to materialize. Lall also points out two worrying signs in Aung San Suu Kyi’s early tenure: that she has left no room for dissent within the NLD, and that she has expressed little public concern for the fate of the Muslim minority in western Myanmar that self-identifies as the Rohingya. Listen below to hear Lall’s take on Myanmar’s reform progress thus far, and find out why she describes the country’s new leadership as “democratic”—quotation marks included—at least for the time being.

Top Stories on CFR

Middle East and North Africa

The kafala system regulates the lives of tens of millions of migrant laborers in the Middle East, but growing outrage over human rights abuses, racism, and gender discrimination has fueled calls for reform.


Government leaders are optimistic that COVID-19 is becoming endemic, meaning more predictable and manageable. But many scientists say it’s too soon to behave like the pandemic is over.

Climate Change

The UN climate summit delivered on a loss and damage fund, but it fell short on goals to reduce emissions and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.