Myanmar's president: reforms not owed to Arab Spring


Myanmar President Thein Sein meets with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a meeting in Naypyidaw, Myanmar in 2011.


Saul Loeb

The reform movement in Myanmar is likely a bit baffling to most news consumers. There was no violent street uprising and no images of rulers dragged off or locked behind bars.

Statements by the ruling ex-generals who've engineered these reforms aren't terribly illuminating either. When asked what spurred the reforms, they offer bland odes to the "democratic process" and the "will of the people."

That leaves us with varied analyses from academics and others. Were the men in charge simply seeking to save their skin? Did a band of decent men on the inside convince the others that their system was untenable? Are they just offering a faux democracy facade to get rich on Western investment?

Or were they afraid of an Arab Spring-style revolt?

Myanmar's President Thein Sein has an answer to the last question: no. Interviewed by Bill Keller of the New York Times in New York, the president attempted to explain why exactly the reforms are taking place:

"Since the beginning, we knew the people wanted a democratic system, but we didn’t want to introduce changes abruptly. It would be quite dangerous to society. The changes in our country were gradual. But we did it because people wanted it. It was not because of Arab Spring or anything else."

A few days earlier, at a forum with the Asia Society, Thein Sein offered this answer to a similar question:

"I would like to use driving a car as an analogy. The transition process in Myanmar is not like driving a car with high speed and turning it around abruptly. It took us two decades to make it happen."

I wouldn't expect Thein Sein (or any leader) to admit fearing revolt. For starters, that would acknowledge a position of weakness and perhaps indicate such a revolt could prove successful. Secondly, it would rob the reformists of their moral high ground.

But there's his answer nonetheless.