UMNO: Three Down but more problems ahead for Party President


February 6, 2016

UMNO: Three Down but more problems ahead for Party President

by Scott Ng

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

muhyiddin-shafie-mukhriz

And so Mukhriz Mahathir, a son of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s greatest enemy, is no longer in the hallowed halls. All is well in the UMNO camp once again. But is that so?

As perfect as the situation may seem for Najib and his supporters, the reality is that Mukhriz’s ouster has only deepened the divide between UMNO’s leadership and its grassroots.

Mukhriz’s replacement, Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, is a proven weakness. Kedah would still be a Pakatan-held state if not for Mukhriz and the bigwigs who campaigned for him in the last general election. And while he may have preferred spending time in the big city to staying put in largely rural Kedah, he nonetheless ran the state credibly.

As a son of Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Mukhriz’s pedigree would have been unquestioned in any other period of our recent political history. But these are times when Najib holds unchallenged power.

Mukhriz nonetheless went down swinging. He told the press that the true reason UMNO wanted him gone was that he had the gall to criticise the PM over the 1MDB scandal and the issue of the RM2.6 billion donation. In doing so, he affirmed the belief of thousands of supporters, as well as many other Malaysians, that Najib Razak cares only for Najib Razak, and that there will be hell to pay if any UMNO leader dares to step out of line.

Even the opposition members of the Kedah state assembly went to bat for Mukhriz, with all 15 of them endorsing a statement calling for Najib to step down instead. They said the removal of the Menteri Besar must be done according to the law. Far from merely attempting to drive a wedge between the ruling party and the people, the opposition here voiced out what many Kedahans have been saying — if there really is a crisis of confidence, put it to a vote and show the people that Mukhriz really has lost the support of the state assembly.

Maybe this Bomoh can save UMNO

These shenanigans and ground shifts no longer confuse the people or make them fearful. They make them angry instead, and UMNO is deluding itself if it thinks that the voices that swelled in song at Stadium Darul Aman belonged only to Mukhriz’s political camp. The truth is that the rakyat in Kedah and elsewhere are fed up with the actions of the ruling party and they are no longer content to be silent about it. This certainly is not something any ruling party would want as it prepares for a general election.

UMNO must know that it may have gambled Kedah away unless it has a strikingly brilliant plan for regaining the trust of voters before GE14. But appearances thus far indicate that the party is playing a dangerous game of touch and go. If the clashes currently happening between Mukhriz’s supporters and detractors are any indication, it is likely that the Kedah situation is far from over.

The nation will be watching closely, and the Prime Minister must choose his next move wisely or bear even more open derision in the face of his efforts to turn public opinion around. Where Kedah goes from here, there too may go the rest of the country. Q.E.D

 

Myanmar– The NLD’s Iron-fisted Gerontocracy


February 4, 2016

Myanmar– The NLD’s Iron-fisted Gerontocracy

 

This column was published in The Myanmar Times on Monday, 1 February 2016

Photo: AFP / Ye Aung THU 

All the speculation about who will hold the nation’s top jobs should come to an end this month. With newly elected legislators taking their Nay Pyi Taw seats, the specifics of further compromises between the National League for Democracy and the military will become clearer.

Before long, the speakers will pick up their gavels for the first time, the president and vice presidents will take up their palatial residences, and a clutch of new ministers will try to get to grips with their responsibilities. Nay Pyi Taw will hum with the fresh energy of a government with much to do.

It will be easy to get caught up in the surge of enthusiasm; the story of the NLD’s success is one for the ages. But the busy months since the November 2015 election have already revealed a lot that will temper expectations.

For a start, there is the degree of difficulty. Since its election triumph, the NLD has been quietly getting ready for power. There is no point in sugar-coating the task. They are finding it tough.

Unravelling decades of military rule was always going to prove a frustrating and inconsistent process. Nobody could pretend that there was a simple or fast way of re-engineering the political machinery to reflect the people’s will.

Last year, I wrote that the party of democratic struggle “needs to lift the standard” if it hopes to create a long-term platform for Myanmar’s success. For now, plenty of people are prepared to make excuses on its behalf.

Mistakes are inevitable. Old habits of blaming the military for every problem will be hard to break. Where possible, the NLD should try to learn from its missteps.

Yet one of the major issues confronting the NLD will be harder to explain away.The irony is that even at the best of times the NLD is far from a model of transparency or democratic management. The authoritarian instinct starts at the top, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s iron grip on decision-making.

For the past quarter-century, she struggled, peacefully and with immense resolve, against the army’s dominance. There is no question about her courage, commitment or charisma.

The last five years have also required some adjustments in her personal approach, especially in Naypyitaw where she has got up close with senior military figures.

What has not changed is her requirement for intense personal loyalty and her need to remain the final authority. The NLD is her vehicle and, as its revolutionary leader, she makes no apologies for taking charge.

Whether or not this is good for Myanmar’s long-term development is not on the agenda for discussion. In any case, there is no short-term alternative. The hard electoral reality is that by cultivating such an intense following and an unrivalled personal aura, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given the people something to believe in.

Under orders from the top, the NLD has been reluctant to share details about its plans, even with the voters who elected the party. Control of the appointment strategy has been severe, even paranoid. This cone of silence isn’t exactly a departure from old-style dictatorial practice.

Then when aspects of reputed NLD plans have dribbled into the press, the party has sought to crack down on speculation, seemingly unable to comprehend the extra interest that its secrecy creates.

A further problem is that almost nobody in the top party echelon has direct experience governing. The Central Executive Committee, stacked with veterans of the struggle for democracy, has a well-earned reputation for gerontocracy.

One of the only senior NLD figures with a track record of running a major component of government activity is U Tin Oo. A long-time fixture at the party’s high table, he was the socialist regime’s minister of defence and commander-in-chief until purged from those positions in March 1976, almost 40 years ago.

The old general, decorated for gallantry in battles against the Kuomintang, is still talked about as a potential presidential proxy if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains excluded from that high office. It would be a remarkable final chapter in U Tin Oo’s incredible career, but also a further indication of what ails the NLD.

For its future viability, the party will benefit from a historic injection of youthful vigour among its decision-making group. Party stalwarts have resisted this revitalisation, while deference to elders makes it hard for the young guns to have their voices heard.

Among the newly elected rank-and-file – who have already been told that they are expected to make up the numbers – the party’s strict discipline will be hard to maintain. Under these conditions, new problems will emerge.

What this analysis implies is that in its elitist culture, the NLD keeps to familiar patterns of hierarchy and subservience. With time, this might change. For now, it would be good to see strong signals that the party’s mandate will mean more democracy in Nay Pyi Taw.

Nicholas Farrelly is Director of the Myanmar Research Centre at Australian National University and the co-founder of New Mandala

 

The IOWA Caususes-2016


February 2, 2016

The IOWA Caususes: Ted Cruz bested Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in virtual tie

by CNN Team

(CNN) One thing is clear after Monday night’s Iowa caucuses: there’s a long, volatile election season ahead before two deeply fractured parties can unite behind a nominee.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are leaving the Hawkeye State in a virtual tie — a vote that underscores the Democratic party’s debate over whether it should solidify behind President Barack Obama’s legacy or move forward with more radical health care and economic reforms.

Republican Ted Cruz bested Donald Trump, raising questions about the billionaire’s reliance on his celebrity instead of traditional political organization. And Marco Rubio’s stronger-than-expected showing could mark him as the establishment’s best hope against a grassroots revolt in next week’s New Hampshire primary and beyond.

Cruz’s victory sets him up as a formidable force in delegate-rich, Southern states to come and offers movement conservatives hope that one of their own can become the Republican nominee for the first time since Ronald Reagan.

Cruz’s victory sets him up as a formidable force in delegate-rich, Southern states to come and offers movement conservatives hope that one of their own can become the Republican nominee for the first time since Ronald Reagan.

Claiming victory, Cruz fired immediate shots at both Trump and the party elites he has so infuriated by waging an anti-establishment crusade that has nevertheless endeared him to the GOP’s rank and file.

“Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee and the next President of the United States will not be chosen by the media, will not be chosen by the Washington establishment,” Cruz said.

With about 99% of the GOP vote in, Cruz was ahead of Trump 28% to 24%. Rubio was at 23%.

Trump, hours after predicting a “tremendous” victory, delivered a short but gracious speech that lacked his normal bombast, saying he loved Iowa and vowed to bounce back next week in New Hampshire.

“We will go on to get the Republican nomination and we will go on to easily beat Hillary or Bernie,” Trump told supporters. “We finished second, and I have to say I am just honored.”

Rubio will also leave Iowa with a leg up over other establishment rivals including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor. John Kasich, who have a lot at stake in New Hampshire.

“This is the moment they said would never happen. For months, they told us we had no chance,” a jubilant Rubio said. “They told me that I needed to wait my turn, that I needed to wait in line. But tonight here in Iowa, the people of this great state have sent a very clear message — after seven years of Barack Obama, we are not waiting any longer to take our country back.”

On the Democratic side, Clinton are deadlocked at 50% with 99% of the votes counted. Clinton, the national front-runner, admitted breathing a “big sigh of relief” after escaping Iowa — the state she handily lost to Obama in 2008 — but promised a vigorous campaign with Sanders.

“It’s rare that we have the opportunity we do now,” she said in a speech that didn’t explicitly claim victory but sought to position her as the authentic progressive in the race.

Sanders, who trailed Clinton in Iowa by 30 points three months ago, told a raucous crowd chanting “Bernie, Bernie” that his campaign made stunning progress.

“Nine months ago, we came to this beautiful state, we had no political organization, we had no money, we had no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America.”

“And tonight,” he said, “while the results are still not known, it looks like we are in a virtual tie.”

Though Sanders fared well in Iowa and is nicely posited in New Hampshire, his hurdle is proving that he can appeal to more ethnically diverse electorates in later contests in places such as South Carolina.

The caucuses resulted in two casualties — one on each side. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, both dropped their candidacies after faring poorly.

Even before the caucuses began, Ben Carson’s campaign said he wouldn’t go directly to New Hampshire or South Carolina — the site of the next primary contests. Instead, the retired neurosurgeon, who was briefly the Iowa front-runner last fall, will go to Florida to rest and see his family.

Former Pennsylvania Senator. Rick Santorum is also skipping New Hampshire but will go straight to South Carolina, which holds its Republican presidential primary on February 20.

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Mark Preston, Chris Moody, Brianna Keilar, MJ Lee, Tami Luhby and Sunlen Serfaty contributed to this report.

Trump and Bernie–Taking On the US Establishment


February 1, 2016

Trump and Bernie–Taking On the US Establishment

by Ross Douthat

www,nytimes.com

The Political Maverick-2016

One of the puzzles of the 2016 campaign, unexpectedly defined by the ascent of a billionaire reality TV star and a septuagenarian Vermont socialist, is why now?

Yes, voters are angry, yes, they’re exhausted and disgusted and cynical about everything. But why is everything boiling over in this particular cycle, in this presidential campaign?

Consider: The economic picture is better than it was in 2012, when Republican primary voters settled for Mitt Romney and an incumbent president was re-elected pretty easily. (In both Iowa and New Hampshire, the unemployment rate is under 4 per cent.)

The foreign policy picture is grim in certain ways, but America isn’t trapped in a casualty-heavy quagmire the way we were in 2004, when Democratic voters played it safe with John Kerry and George W. Bush won re-election.

As Michael Grunwald argued recently in Politico, the worst-case scenarios of the post-Great Recession era haven’t materialised. Obamacare is limping along without an imminent death spiral, and health care costs aren’t rising as fast as feared.

The deficit has fallen a bit, and inflation is extraordinarily low. The stock market is wobbly, but we haven’t had a double-dip recession.On the cultural front, out-of-wedlock births are no longer rising. Abortion rates have fallen. Illegal immigration rates are down.

The state of the union isn’t all that one might hope, but it could clearly be a whole lot worse.

So what are Trumpistas and Bern-feelers rebelling against?One answer might be that they’re fed up with exactly this — the politics of “it could be worse,” of stagnation and muddling through. They aren’t revolting against abject failure, or deep and swift decline. They’re rebelling against decadence.

Now it may sound absurd to cast a figure like Donald Trump, the much-married prince of tinsel and pasteboard, as a scourge of decadence rather than its embodiment. But don’t just think about the word in moral or aesthetic terms. Think of it as a useful way of describing a society that’s wealthy, powerful, technologically proficient — and yet seemingly unable to advance in the way that its citizens once took for granted.

A society where people have fewer children and hold diminished expectations for the future, where institutions don’t work particularly well but can’t seem to be effectively reformed, where growth is slow and technological progress disappoints.

A society that fights to a stalemate in its foreign wars, even as domestic debates repeat themselves without any resolution. A society disillusioned with existing religions and ideologies, but lacking new sources of meaning to take their place.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers questions from reporters before a campaign rally in Marshalltown, Iowa January 26, 2016. — Reuters pic

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers questions from reporters before a campaign rally in Marshalltown, Iowa January 26, 2016. — Reuters pic

This is how many Americans, many Westerners, experience their civilisation in the early years of the 21st century. And both Trump and Bernie Sanders, in their very different ways, are telling us that we don’t have to settle for it anymore.

With Trump, the message is crude, explicit, deliberately over the top. Make America Great Again. “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”

But it resonates because the diagnosis resonates — especially with older Americans, who grew up amid the post-World War II boom, the vaulting optimism of the Space Age, the years when big government and big business were seen as effective and patriotic rather than sclerotic and corrupt.

Trump is offering nostalgia, but it’s not a true reactionary’s lament. He wants to take us back to a time when the future seemed great, amazing, fantastic.

Likewise Sanders, except that in his case the glorious future is more midcentury Scandinavia than Space Age America. After Obamacare became law, it seemed to many people that the welfare state project was basically complete, that the future of US liberalism mostly involved tweaking entitlements around the edges to keep them solvent.

But Sanders is telling liberals, younger liberals especially, that the heroic age of liberalism isn’t over yet, that they can have a welfare state that’s far more amazing and fantastic than the one their forefathers constructed.

The fact that both of these messages — Trump’s “Make America great again” and Bernie’s “Why not socialism?” — involve essentially recycled visions of the future is a sign of how hard it is for a decadent society to escape the trap of repetition.

But more important, the fact that both men are promising the implausible or the impossible — and the fact that Trump is openly contemptuous of our ragged republican norms — is a reminder that there are worse things than decadence, grimmer possibilities for the future than drift and repetition.

The disappointment and impatience that people feel in a decadent era is legitimate, even admirable. But the envy of more heroic moments, the desire to just do something to prove your society’s vitality — Invade Iraq to remake the Middle East! Open Germany’s borders! Elect Trump or Sanders president! — can be a very dangerous sensibility.

There are pathways up from decadence. But there are more roads leading down. — The New York Times

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/new-york-times/article/trump-sanders-and-the-revolt-against-decadence-ross-douthat#sthash.sfmI3gRR.dpuf

Malaysia: All Hype and Shadows in Sarawak Politics


January 21, 2016

Malaysia: All Hype and Shadows in Sarawak Politics

by James Chin

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2016/01/18/sarawaks-wayang-kulit/

In the lead up to state elections, old masters still rule from the shadows and stand to gain the most from the vote.

adenan-satem

Last week, Adenan Satem, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, announced that his right-wing Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (United Traditional Bumiputera Party, or PBB) will contest 40 of the 82 constituencies in upcoming state elections. The casual remark to the press was no accident and was highly significant for several reasons.

Adenan is signalling that the state elections will most probably be held in March or April this year. More importantly, by telling the world the number of PBB candidates, the incumbent Chief Minister is signalling that politics in Sarawak has not changed since he took over in February 2014. PBB has dominated Sarawak politics since 1970, and nothing has changed since Adenan’s much-hyped takeover in early 2014.

In every state elections since the 1990s, PBB has contested just below 50 per cent of seats. In both the 2006 and 2011 state elections, PBB contested (and won) 35 of 71 seats in the Sarawak Dewan Undangan Negri (DUN or State Assembly).  The implications are clear – PBB can rule on its own at any time, but does not grab more than 50 per cent of the seats to show its commitment to the multiracial, four-party Sarawak Barisan Nasional. In fact, it is widely known that some of the winning candidates in the other Sarawak BN parties are “on loan” from PBB or closet PBB members. Thus covertly, PBB controls more than half the seats in the DUN Dewan Undangan Negeri –State Assembly)

Some context is necessary here. When Adenan took over two years ago, there were expectations that he would reverse some of the excesses involving Taib Mahmud, his predecessor (now Governor). Taib’s widely-reported kleptocracy was reaching a point where even Putrajaya was embarrassed by the constant news reports of his wealth overseas. In Malaysia alone, Taib and his family allegedly owned more than 400 companies, while his holding overseas was conservatively estimated to be around US $15 billion. One website, Sarawak Report, and an NGO, the Bruno Manser Fund, were largely responsible for exposing the extent of his hidden wealth overseas.

Despite all the evidence, Taib was untouchable for a very simple reason. Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, needed him to stay in power after the 2013 General Elections. Razak’s UMNO party won 88 seats while Taib’s Sarawak BN delivered 25 seats. Without Sarawak BN, Najib would have been out of power. Taib’s PBB is currently the second largest party in the federal Barisan Nasional coalition.

One year later, in February 2014, Taib was sworn in as Sarawak’s Governor and Adenan, his hand-picked successor, became Chief Minister. Make no mistake; Adenan was a pair of ‘safe hands’. He was married previously to Taib’s sister and he went to school at St Joseph’s in the state capital Kuching with Taib. Adenan even went to the same university (University of Adelaide) and graduated in the same degree (law). Adenan later served for more than two decades in Taib’s cabinet.

Like Taib, Adenan is a master tactician when it comes to Sarawak politics. He understands that Sarawakians (and Malaysians) have short memories. Rather than addressing the issue of Taib’s misdeeds, Adenan went for something that all Sarawakians strongly agree on — Sarawak has gotten a rotten deal in the Malaysian Federation.

For the past decade, resentment grew among Sarawakians that their state got very little after helping to establish the Malaysian Federation in 1963. The consensus is that Sarawak does not fit into the UMNO’s model of ‘Malay First, Islam First’  governance and that Sarawak would be much better off had it opted for independence.

This wave of Sarawak nationalism could not come at a more opportune time for Adenan, Taib and Sarawak BN. Using Sarawak nationalism gives Adenan two key political advantages. First it gives him the right to shout “Get non-Sarawak parties out of Sarawak. Sarawak for Sarawakians” (better known as S4S), knowing full well that the biggest threat to Sarawak BN are the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR).

Although these two parties are part of their national party, in truth they have a lot of autonomy when it comes to Sarawak issues. However, many people are excited about the need to keep Sarawak-based parties in power and to “kick-out Malayan” parties. At present Adenan’s Sarawak BN component parties are all Sarawak-based.

Second, playing the Sarawak nationalism card allows Adenan to deflect all the unresolved corruption issues related to Taib. Adenan claims that he is in charge, and that things are changing. But in reality, all Taib-related companies continue to get government contracts, and all the projects and dams supported by the Taib administration remain in place.

Adenan will not, as the locals say, ‘lawan towkay’ (challenge the boss) who in Sarawak remains Taib.Taib’s master political move was to simply shift upstairs to the Governorship and control the state from the shadows.  Sarawakians, especially those in the rural areas, seem to think that Adenan is really in charge now that his picture appears daily on the front page of local Sarawak papers.

There is little doubt that Adenan and Sarawak BN will win big in this year’s vote.  In the last state election, Sarawak BN won 55 of 71 seats. Thirteen of the 16 seats won by the opposition were in urban, largely Chinese-majority constituencies. A repeat is expected in the 2016 race.

Sarawak DAP is still the undisputed champion of the urban Chinese, but Adenan’s personal popularity coupled with the Sarawak nationalism card will mean it will be tough for Sarawak DAP’s dream of moving into native and semi-urban constituencies. There is even the possibility that Adenan’s popularity will lead to reduced majorities for DAP in Chinese seats.

But, the two big winners for the upcoming polls will be Najib Razak and Taib Mahmud.Najib can claim some credit for Sarawak BN’s victory given that he has given leeway for Adenan to condemn UMNO publicly in Sarawak. Adenan often openly speaks negatively about UMNO’s race politics in Sarawak and vows not to allow UMNO into Sarawak. This is wildly popular among the “Sarawak for Sarawakians” crowd.

In fact, it is so popular that the main NGO behind the S4S campaign was forced to support Adenan’s call for complete autonomy from Putrajaya, effectively supporting the Sarawak BN and Taib.  A strong showing by Adenan will reinforce Najib’s claim that he can rely on the “fixed deposit” from East Malaysia in the next general elections.

The ultimate winner is Taib Mahmud. Despite all the negative news reports, police reports, documentaries, and worldwide campaigns, he is still untouchable and sitting pretty in the Astana Palace. He is probably more “successful” than either Suharto or Marcos. The only contemporary leader who comes close to what Taib has “achieved” is Hun Sen of Cambodia.

Najib’s 1MDB shenanigans are peanuts compared to Taib and his family’s wealth but attracts all the attention. Is it any wonder that Taib’s nickname is White Rajah of Sarawak?

James Chin is Director, Asia Institute, University of Tasmania 

 

Myanmar: An Emerging Culture of Discourse and Dialogue


January 7, 2016

Myanmar: An Emerging Culture of Discourse and Dialogue

by Nicholas Farrelly

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2016/01/06/freedom-and-independence/

This column was published in The Myanmar Times on Monday, January 4, 2016

Myanmar 2015

Sixty-eight years ago today Britain’s Union Jack was lowered in Burma for the last time. Independence is a special feeling, made all the more potent in modern Myanmar by the long struggles against colonial rule and military dictatorship.

Until recently, Independence Day celebrations were tinged with sadness: Lost opportunities were the country’s post-colonial standard. Under military rule it was hard for most people to get too excited about the country’s past, present or future. Melancholy reigned.

But as the shadows of that dictatorial history continue to shrink, Independence Day is being embraced by new generations. Pride in national culture, political development and economic success is replacing the old feelings of defeat and misery.

What is most exciting about Myanmar right now is that day-to-day freedoms have never been more widespread.For a start there is the new-found freedom to talk, to listen, to write, to read, to create and to think. There has never been a time when so many Myanmar people have been empowered to share their views and ideas. New technologies help. But they would not count for much without the dramatic change in the political climate.

In the past few years there still have been occasional arrests of journalists, activists, students and others accused of pushing the boundaries too far. One of these arrests is one too many. Yet for almost everyone else the climate of debate and discussion has freshened up to a surprising extent.

Nowadays I find that discussions with Myanmar interlocutors are much less predictable. It is easy to find people with radically differing views, all happy to share their ideas about what Myanmar needs in the next phase of its development.

These tens of millions of opinions make it impossible to find consensus.Take the development of Yangon. Many people feel that it has already spiralled out of control, with traffic, capitalism and social ills all rampaging over what was, until a few years ago, a more sedate terrain.

The first time I hung out in Yangon it was still the sleepy backwater that is now romanticised by those who dwell on what has been lost. So much has changed so quickly. Of course, there was beauty back then, but also much deprivation, frustration, even despair. We should not forget how grim the old circumstances were.

itaTTEj.6ZVA

President Thein Sein paved the way for Democratic Politics

In Yangon, as elsewhere, it is in the independence to think differently and make up your own mind that the biggest changes will continue to emerge.Millions of Myanmar media consumers already enjoy a huge array of information options. They can devour the state-run channels and newspapers, but they can now also get their hands on private media too numerous to name, including what were previously banned publications, like The Irrawaddy and Mizzima.

Bumping up against online censorship has also rapidly become a thing of the past. Myanmar’s internet is “free” by any standard. Facebook is a recurring theme in this column for good reason. In a few short years it has completely changed the way that many Myanmar people connect and converse.

Before long these trends will be better reflected in the global assessments of civil and political rights. These assessments tend to react slowly to change and to put emphasis on particular episodes where freedoms are trampled.

It never helps when a Myanmar journalist goes to prison or when peaceful demonstrators get a hard time from the authorities. Nor has it looked good when the major political parties have sought to systematically exclude Muslims from the revitalised political process.

These situations all deserve our concern, and sometimes our sustained condemnation. Things are hardly perfect. But the residual problems should not take our attention from the big trend toward much greater freedom of expression and more open discussion, even on sensitive topics.

This freedom is the basis on which successful societies deal with their challenges and go about the long-term practice of managing risk.

Without adequate provisions for open public debate it is all too easy for bad policies to fester, for injustices to go unchecked and for people to lose hope that the powerful will ever be held to account. There can be problems with unfettered freedom of expression but these are much less pronounced than people tend to fear. Even the most despicable ideas are usually best aired for wider scrutiny. There is nothing quite like the sanitising process when people of goodwill and intellect have a chance to learn for themselves.

With last year’s election result still ringing in our ears there is a good chance that 2016 will become Myanmar’s best year yet. And with all the new freedoms, it should see serious debate about what the National League for Democracy can achieve.

This is the time when new space for big ideas will give Myanmar a chance to consolidate its fragile democratic apparatus. The nation’s independence will require it.

Nicholas Farrelly is director of the Myanmar Research Centre at the Australian National University and the co-founder of New Mandala, a website on Southeast Asian affairs that celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016.