Myanmar, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), is the second largest country in Southeast Asia, with a population slightly over 51 million. Administratively, Myanmar has seven states and seven regions, many of which are divided along ethnic lines.
Myanmar, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), is the second largest country in Southeast Asia, with a population slightly over 51 million. Administratively, Myanmar has seven states and seven regions, many of which are divided along ethnic lines. The capital, Naypyidaw, was relocated from Yangon (Rangoon) in 2005 and is about 200 miles north of the former capital.
The country’s official language is Burmese, although roughly 35% of the population speaks an ethnic dialect. English is spoken by the educated urban elite and is the second language taught in government schools. Almost 90% of the population is Buddhist.
Various Burmese and ethnic minority city-states or kingdoms occupied Myanmar throughout its early history. During the British rule of India, Myanmar was incorporated as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate colony. In 1948, Burma attained independence.
Myanmar was largely run by a military dictatorship for most of its modern history, but elections in November 2010 led to a peaceful transition to a quasi-civilian government headed by President Thein Sein. Since then, the government has initiated a series of political and economic reforms, which have resulted in a substantial opening of the long-isolated country.
These reforms have led to greater political stability and include the release of many political prisoners, ceasefire agreements with 12 of 13 major non-state armed groups, more freedom of the press, and parliamentary by-elections in 2012 in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party won 43 of the 44 seats they contested, gaining approximately 11% representation in parliament.
Despite political progress, living standards have not improved for the majority of the people residing in rural areas. Myanmar remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with more than one-fourth of its people living in poverty.
The previous government’s isolationist policies and economic mismanagement left the country with poor infrastructure, endemic corruption, underdeveloped human resources, and inadequate access to capital, all of which will require a major commitment to reverse. While the government has launched a series of major economic reforms, it has been slow to address some of the more deep-rooted impediments to economic development, such as its opaque revenue collection and antiquated banking systems.
Other overarching challenges facing the government include resolving domestic tensions and preventing ethnic violence. In addition to undertaking further economic reforms, the international community would like to see, in particular, more progress in defining a clear role for the military, greater political dialogue with opposition groups, and improved rule of law and government accountability.