U Htin Kyaw’s inaugural cabinet: slimmer and trimmer

A few years ago, I wrote about bureaucratic bloat in Burma’s national government. At the time, Burma had 31 cabinet level ministries, well above Southeast Asia’s regional average. Turns out this is finally being addressed, in one of U Htin Kyaw’s first welcome proposals as the president-elect.

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Rediscovering Burma’s former national motto

The other day, I came across something profound. Perhaps it’s been forgotten by the vast majority now, but Burma, like its Southeast Asian neighbors, once had an Indic national motto, during its short-lived parliamentary period following independence from 1948 to 1962.

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Is democracy what Burma really needs?

Just Google “broken congress” (or “dysfunctional congress”) and you’ll be greeted by hundreds upon hundreds of articles heralding the demise of American democracy. It’s no surprise–Americans have a lower rating of Congress than of any other branch in government. And the average American, myself included, feel more and more powerless, more and more disenfranchised, to change a system where the odds are stacked against our favor.

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Header of Membership of the Pyithu Hluttaw: A Demographic Profile

Membership of the Pyithu Hluttaw: A Demographic Profile

Since the election of the 330 odd Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Assembly) representatives (MP’s) two years ago, I haven’t seen much in the actual composition of Burma’s lower house, a look at the members’ demographic data, aside from their party affiliation. Fortunately, the Pyithu Hluttaw website (pyithuhluttaw.gov.mm) now has biodata for all 314 of the sitting Pyithu Hluttaw MP’s.

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State of the Union Thein Sein

Word choice in Thein Sein’s 2012 State of the Union

Thein Sein made his annual address to the Union Parliament on Peasants’ Day, March 1 (official English translation here), a speech that has been praised by many. The Irrawaddy points out a change in language, as Burmese citizens were referred to as the the parents (မိဘပြည်သူ,miba pyithu) to which the government is accountable to. Thein Sein also made extensive use of the opposition’s language, incorporating English words like “all-inclusive political process” and “rule of law.” This, coming from the same man who was close to drug lords in Shan State during his tenure at the Golden Triangle’s military command.

Another interesting highlight pointed out by the Irrawaddy:

We are all working together for our minority children who wielded guns, ought to wield laptops instead and stand proud.*
သေနတ်ကိုင်ခဲ့တဲ့ကျနော်တို့တိုင်းရင်းသားလူငယ်တွေ လက်တော့ကိုင်ပြီး ထည်ထည်ဝါဝါ ရပ်တည်နေနိုင်ဖို့ကျနော်တို့အားလုံး ဝိုင်းဝန်းကြိုးပမ်းသွားကြရမှာဖြစ်ပါတယ်။
I am really saddened by this. I have pledged a vow with all my heart. During the term of my administration, we will work to make these kinds of unbelievably dreadful incidents disappear. This is also a resolution of our government.
ကျနော်တကယ့်ကိုပဲ စိတ်မကောင်းဖြစ်ရပါတယ်။ ကျနော်အခိုင်အမာ အဓိဌာန်ချထားပါတယ်။ ကျနော်တို့အစိုးရ လက်ထက်မှာ ဒီလိုမယုံမရဲဖြစ်နေတဲ့စိုးရွံ့မှုတွေ ပပျောက်ပျောက်အောင် ဖျောက်ပစ်ရပါမယ်။ ဒါ ကျနော်တို့အစိုးရရဲ့ ခံယူချက်လည်း ဖြစ်ပါတယ်။

A la New York Times, I decided to do my own word analysis of his speech, using a transcript provided by Mizzima News. It’s a fairly rudimentary way of analyzing the whole speech, but it’s a a good way to understand his word choice.

I used WordCloud to generate the data I had compiled on Excel. I compiled the counts by searching keywords in the Burmese transcript of the speech. I tried to omit monosyllables like aung (အောင်), which means ‘succeed’ and is also a grammar particle, and instead used the bisyllable forms, like aung-myin (အောင်မြင်), also ‘succeed’. I also combined similar keywords, like နိုင်ငံတကာ/နိုင်ငံခြား (foreign) or ရပ်စဲ/တိုက်ခိုက် (ceasefire/attack).

Here’s what I found.

နိုင်ငံ - nation (75), ဆောင်ရွက် - carry out (71), အစိုးရ - government (64), ပြည်သူ - citizens (62), ပြောင်း - change (54), စီးပွားရေး - economy (35), ခိုင်မာ - strong (34), လုပ်ငန်း - work (30), တိုင်းရင်းသား - minorities (29), ဖွံ့ဖြိုး/တိုးတက် - development (29), တိုးတက် - develop (28), စနစ် - system (28), ကြိုးပမ်း/ကြိုးစား - work hard (27), မိဘ - parents (26), ဒီမိုကရေစီ - democracy (25), လမ်း - road (24), သစ် - new (24), ဥပဒေ - law (23), မြန်မာ - Burma (23), အခြေခံ - situation (23), စိတ် - mind (23), နိုင်ငံတကာ/နိုင်ငံခြား - foreign (22), ပြောင်းလဲ - change (21), ကူးပြောင်း - transform (21), နိုင်ငံရေး - politics (20), တာဝန် - responsibility (19), တရား - justice (17), ပညာ - education (16), ဆက်လက် - continue (16), အမျိုးသား - national (15), ပြုပြင် - reform (15), လွှတ်တော် - parliament (15), အချိန် - time (15), ကူညီ - help (15), ဆက်ဆံ - relations (15), ရပ်စဲ/တိုက်ခိုက် - ceasefire/attack (13), ငြိမ်းချမ်း - peace (12), ဆန္ဒ - desire (12), အခြေအနေ - situation (12), ငွေ - money (12), ရင်းနှီး - close (12), ဖွင့် ပွင့် - open (12), rule of law - rule of law (11), ပူးပေါင်း - join together (11), ထာဝရ - eternal (10), ပုဂ္ဂလိက - private (10), မဏ္ဍိုင် - pillar (10), ညီညွတ် - equal (10), သမိုင်း - history (9), ယန္တရား - machine (9), ဆွေးနွေး - dialogue (9), ထူထောင် - establish (9), တက္ကသိုလ်/ကောလိပ် - university (9), ကိုယ်စားလှယ် - MP (8), ခံစား - experience (8), နာယက - patron (8), အခွင့်အရေး - rights (8), ကျန်းမာ - health (8), ကျောင်း - school (8), တပ်မတော် - military (8), ထောက်ပံ့ - support (8), တန်ဖိုး - value (7), အောင်မြင် - succeed (7), ခေတ်သစ် - new era (7), အာဏာ - power (7), လုပ်ကိုင် - making a living (7), လိုအပ် - need (7), ကတိ/အာမခံ - promise/pledge (7), ကမ္ဘာ - world (6), ဆင်းရဲ - poor (6), ဝန်ထမ်း - civil servant (6), မျှော်မှန်း - hope (6), လွတ်လပ် - free (6), လူထု - the people (6).

I did a similar one with the official English translation provided by the New Light of Myanmar:

2012 State of the Union English translation word cloud

I’m still not convinced by his speech. “Actions speak louder than words.” I’ve been following ALTSEAN’s Parliament Watch, which is a nice way of sorting through what’s actually being done in Parliament (without going through the messy PDF newspapers and articles on Myanmar.com). ALTSEAN’s November 2011 report concluded that not much of substance had been done, especially at the state/region level:

On the legislative front, [among all regional 14 parliaments] only four bills (two in the Irrawaddy Division Parliament and two in the Rangoon Division Parliament) were introduced.

Simply astonishing. A newly published article titled “Burma’s Constitution: Straitjacket or red-herring?” says the following, words that I couldn’t have put better myself:

By contrast, Burma’s military remains powerful enough to demand a veto over any reforms. Thus, the 2008 Constitution does not create the underlying power imbalance, but merely ratifies it.

But the author does note the following:

Moreover, the 2008 Constitution lacks the ingredients for a long-lived constitutional recipe – an inclusive drafting process, detailed provisions, and a flexible amendment procedure. The question is not if Burma’s democratic opposition will be able to change the constitution, but rather when.

Some food for thought.

*Official translation: We all must try our hardest to see national races youths, who had brandished guns, using laptops.

Effort to add “Burmese” to the U.S. Census

I recently learned about an interesting effort by the Burmese American community to have “Burmese” added to the U.S. census’ list of races, for a more accurate population count of the Burmese community in the States. According to the Burmese Complete Count Committee,

Burmese in general means everyone who is a descendent from current Burma or Myanmar. According to this definition, all ethnic groups and tribes who originated from the country Burma or Myanmar are included. Definition of Burmese is different from Bama. Burmese is inclusive of Mon, Karen, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Lisu, Bama, Kayah, Palaung, Padaung, Pa-O, etc.

In the 2000 Census, only Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese were included as choices. It will be interesting to see whether the 2010 Census does include an option for “Burmese,” when larger communities like Thai Americans are not yet included. I don’t know how effective adding Burmese will be to the U.S. Census, because many Burmese Americans are either mixed Chinese or Indian (and would naturally gravitate  to the more visible groupings), or refugees from ethnic minorities that generally do not associate themselves with being “Burmese.”

Nevertheless, I think it’s a step in the right direction in making the Burmese American community more visible.

Living in superficial harmony

'National Tribes of Burma'

A 1970s tourist souvenir from Burma (oddly enough, Burma was closed to the outside world during this time). From left to right: Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Shan, Padaung, Naga, Kachin.

Burma, despite its wealth of ethnic diversity, has largely neglected the issue of multiculturalism. Burmese may be the national language, but more than 10 million people (25%) within the country do not speak it. Burma, as most people know it today, is an artificial creation made by the British, who colonized territories (Burman-dominant Ministerial Burma and ethnic minority-dominant Frontier Areas) in modern Burma and tied them together during independence.

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Letting the colonial relics rot

Rangoon Secretariat building

The Secretariat in the foreground and St. Paul's Cathedral and Shwedagon Pagoda in the background.


After reading an article about Rangoon’s Secretariat building (alternatively called the Prime Ministers’ Office or Ministers’ Office) in shambles in the New Era Journal (Burmese article here, but I cannot find an English translation), I felt compelled to write about the situation of preserving colonial buildings in Burma. The Secretariat is a very important historical landmark, considering the assassinations of Aung San and other ‘martyrs’ occurred there. Martyrs’ Day, which recently passed, commemorates what happened there that day. Moreover, the building, which was built in the colonial era, was home of the executive during the formative years of a newly independent Burma.

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U.S. sanctions renewal, Burma’s first decade in ASEAN and UN intervention

Financial Times “Burma junta fuels poverty, claims UN” headline; 2007-07-12

Headline from the Financial Times (July 12, 2007) reporting about a leaked UN report on Burma.

How interesting. Several important developments regarding Burma today: (1) Burma celebrates its 10th anniversary in ASEAN, (2) The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to renew sanctions against Burma, and (3) UN Envoy to Burma, Gambari has begun a trip across Europe to democratize Burma once again.

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How the new Burmese government will work

National Convention

Acting Prime Minister Lieutenant-General Thein Sein, who is the chairman (thabapati) of the National Convention (Amyotha Nyilagan).

Tomorrow, Burma’s military government reconvene its final meeting and wrap up the writing of the constitution at the National Convention, which began nearly 18 years ago. Note that only 11% of the original MPs elected in 1990 are participating in the National Convention. State Peace and Development Council members and selected persons oversee National Convention and regulate it.

Click for a larger version.

The basic structure of the government in the draft constitution.

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