Under the 2008 constitution drafted by the military, Myanmar is defined as a unitary parliamentary republic. Myanmar’s nominal head of state is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate. The Myanmar military, headed by Snr. General Min Aung Hlaing, still hold much authority over the country’s politics, especially on matters of national security.
Myanmar’s 2008 constitution allowed for the first multi-party elections in 2010, ending five decades of military rule. The table below details the various political regimes in Myanmar over the past 140 years.
British rule in Burma
Part of British India
During World War 2
Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League
Military socialist era
Military socialist dictatorship
A change in regime after the 1988 revolution
Myanmar political reforms
Political reforms to democracy led by military
First legitimate open elections
Open elections won by National League for Democracy (NLD)
Myanmar’s national government is divided into the executive, legislative and judicial arms. The executive branch is currently headed by the State Counsellor of Myanmar (a role similar to the prime minister), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, even though the President U Htin Kyaw is the de jure head of state and head of government. A list of Ministers and Deputy Ministers for each Government ministry can be seen in the Government session of Open Development Myanmar’s Dashboard.
The national legislative branch consists of two bodies under the Assembly of the Union. These are:
- the People’s Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) which has 440 representatives elected on the basis of township as well as population
- the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw) which has 224 representatives, based on equal representation from the different regions of the country.
The military, as per the 2008 constitution, occupies 25% of the seats in each body. To amend the constitution requires a 75% majority of both branches, which effectively makes it impossible to change the constitution without military approval.1
The judicial system in Myanmar is currently still based on British-era laws and systems and is not independent of the executive branch. The highest court is the Supreme Court of which Htun Htun Oo is the Chief Justice.
There are 7 regions and 7 states (defined by ethnic composition) in Myanmar. The 7 regions are Ayeyarwady Region, Bago Division, Magway Division, Mandalay Division, Sagaing Division, Tanintharyi Division and Yangon Division. The seven states are Chin State, Kachin State, Kayin State, Kayah State, Mon State, Rakhine State and Shan State. There are also five self-administered zones and a self-administered Division where the populations of Naga, Palaung, Kokang, Pao, Danu, and Wa reside.2
The most recent general election was held on 8 November 2015. This was the first time that an openly contested election was held since 1990. The results gave the National League for Democracy a supermajority of the seats in both chambers of the Assembly. This election was critical in signaling a significant change in the political nature of the country, as it had been led by successive military leaders from 1962.3
The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) show that rankings for certain measures of Myanmar’s political governance have stayed relatively low over the past 15 years.7 The measures for ‘Voice and Accountability’ and ‘Control of Corruption’ are the only measures that show significant improvement since 1996. This may be attributable to the significant change in political systems (the improvement in both measures occurred after 2010). The fluctuating results for ‘Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism’ reflect events in Myanmar’s ongoing civil war.
|Note: The Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) are a research dataset summarizing the views on the quality of governance provided by a large number of enterprise, citizen and expert survey respondents in industrial and developing countries. These data are gathered from a number of survey institutes, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and private sector firms. The WGI do not reflect the official views of the World Bank, its Executive Directors, or the countries they represent. The WGI are not used by the World Bank Group to allocate resources.4|
Myanmar is known for rampant corruption in all sectors. In the Corruption Perception Index 2016 compiled by Transparency International, Myanmar ranked 136th out of 176 countries. (It has improved its score significantly since 2012, however, when it took 172nd place, with the lowest countries jointly ranked at 174th.)5 Corruption in national government is perhaps the greatest in the jade industry, where there is no oversight. Global Witness reports that up to US$31 billion worth of jade was sold in Kachin State in 2014, a figure which amounts to half of Myanmar’s GDP. Much of this money was shown in the report to be siphoned off to former military dictators, crony companies, and the military.6
Myanmar has had a series of ongoing insurgencies since its independence from Britain in 1948. This conflict, labeled the world’s longest-running civil war, has caused a large number of civilian deaths and refugees. According to UNHCR, as of late March 2017, there were over 415,000 refugees from Myanmar. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as of March 2015 there were up to 662,400 internally displaced people as a result of conflict and violence in Myanmar. There has been much work towards peace but the lack of transparency and the rapid speed of changes in the factions has caused the peace process to slow.78
Though Myanmar had strained relations with the rest of the world before 2012, it has had much more active and open engagement with other countries since its major political changes. Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and now has diplomatic missions all over the world. Myanmar has used the opening up of the country to encourage foreign investment into various sectors of the economy.9
- 1. President Office Myanmar. Accessed June 29, 2017. View source
- 2. Hamish Nixon, Cindy Joelene, Kyi Pyar Chit Saw, Thet Aung Lynn, Matthew Arnold. “State and Region Governments in Myanmar”. September 2013 View source
- 3. Myanmar election: Suu Kyi’s NLD wins landslide victory. Assessed June 28, 2017. View source
- 4. World Bank. “Worldwide Governance Indicators”. Accessed June 28, 2017. View source
- 5. Transparency International “Corruption Perception Index 2016”. View source
- 6. Global Witness Jade: Myanmar’s “Big State Secret”. October 2015. View source
- 7. ACAPS. “Global Emergency Overview_March 2016”. Accessed June 28, 2017. View source
- 8. Miliband, David. “How to Bring Peace to the World’s Longest Civil War”. Accessed June 28, 2017. View source
- 9. Beina Xu, Elanor Albert. “Understanding Myanmar”. Accessed June 28, 2017. View source