Special Forum

When Myanmar’s ruling military junta transitioned to a nominally civilian government in 2011, observers around the world asked whether one of Asia’s most repressive regimes was finally breaking with its authoritarian past. In 2015, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the general elections, winning the majority in the national assembly (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) from the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Democracy icon and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD formed a government in a power-sharing arrangement with the military (Tatmadaw), raising domestic and international expectations about Myanmar’s democratization process. However, that optimism was short-lived. Myanmar has exhibited troubling signs of democratic backsliding and egregious rights violations. Democratization has increased political space for aggressive ethno-nationalists who spread hate speech via Myanmar’s new social media communities. Since 2016, sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people into neighboring Bangladesh. Refugees have related horrifying accounts of rape, mass killing, and the razing of entire villages by Rakhine Buddhists and Tatmadaw soldiers. Such accounts have been supported by independent international investigations, resulting in accusations of crimes against humanity.1

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