I recently spent a week in Myanmar and posted updates on the situation in Myanmar and perspectives on Myanmar.
One of the less known facts about Myanmar is that while ethnic Burmans represent an estimated 60-65% of the population of about 50 million (this may be low), the balance of the population are other ethnicities. Here are a few of the highlights:
• There are more than 100 ethnic groups, languages and dialects in Myanmar … one of the richest diversities of any South Asia country.
• Most of the ethnic minorities live in mountainous areas of the country … mostly on the borders with other countries.
• The largest minorities are Shan and Karen groups while Mon, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Karenni/Kayah, Chinese, Indian, Danu, Akha, Kokang, Lahu, Naga, Palaung, Pao, Rohyinga, Tavoyan, and Wa peoples also have substantial members.
• Civilians living in ethnic areas are the worst affected by the country’s 60-year-old war, constituting the majority of its victims.
• Between 1996 and 2006 the internal conflicts generated an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) many of whom were drawn from ethnic nationalities.
• While the majority of people in Myanmar are Theravada Buddhists, the majority of Kachin and Chin and a significant minority of Karen are Christians. Rohingya are Muslims.
The military government has sought to make the Burmese language, Buddhism and Burman culture as the single identity for the country. Some have welcomed this as necessary for creating a stable and unified country. Others have characterized this as a significant violation of human rights for the ethnic and religious minorities.
This is the context in which Myanmar finds itself today approaching their first elections in 20+ years. It is no wonder why there is such debate and disagreement amongst political parties over whether to participate or not in these less-than-fully-democratic elections.
As the Venezuelean opposition has discovered, boycotting elections gives you less voice in public policy. I believe that it would be better for the opposition parties to participate in the elections and to work for reform and progress from within the system rather than from the outside. I realize that some people disagree with me on this.
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