Myanmar's ex-army "liberals"


Former Myanmar general-turned-house speaker Thura Shwe Mann and president Thein Sein attend a military parade marking the country's 65th Armed Forces day at a parade ground on March 27, 2010.



As the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, the stunning political and economic changes coursing through Myanmar (formerly Burma) don't have a catchy name a la the "Arab Spring" or the former Soviet Union's "glasnost."

But the reform-minded army men, who retired from a reviled junta to build a quasi-democracy, do have a name for themselves.

They call themselves "liberals."

"They don't call themselves reformists," said Thiha Saw, prominent editor of a Burmese-language journal published inside the country. Among Western journalists, "reformists" is the tag most often fixed to former generals driving, well, reforms. 

Thiha Saw recounted a chat with Myanmar's railways minister, the government's go-to agent for negotiating ceasefires with armed ethnic rebel armies. "He said, 'I'm not a reformist. I'm a liberal.' Basically, there are liberals and conservatives inside the regime."

"Our job," Thiha Saw said, "is to push these liberals or reformists or whatever they are as much as possible so they'll reach an irreversible point. So they won't turn back and go to square one."