Monday, August 29, 2011

The Sandalwood Evolution

Monday, 29 August 2011 11:40 Dr. Sein Myint

(Commentary) – Even though French perfumes had been introduced to the Ladies in the Court of Ava as early as 18th century, the sweet and soft sandalwood traditional fragrance has always been the favorite “tha-nat-khar” in Burma. Sandalwood bark is ground on a flat stone surface producing a watery perfume paste and was donned by most Burmese ladies until very recently. Naturally, we are familiar and used to a sandalwood smell radiating from our mothers and sisters in our homes.

Recently, the fall of Tripoli to the Libyan rebels has captured world media headlines and cable news networks along with the intense political drama played out in Washington DC. But at the same time, a soft and subtle “sandalwood evolution” has taken place in Naypyitaw, the capital of Burma, not mentioned in any world media headlines except for the Burmese exile news media and the Burmese news services of the VOA, RAF & BBC, and web blogs.

Lawmakers pose at the opening of the second regular session of the Burmese Parliament this month. Photo: Mizzima

Under the watchful eyes of exiled Burmese political dissidents and International Burma experts and observers, the new civilian government led by President Thein Sein, an ex-general and prime minster in previous military regimes, has ambivalently embarked upon the road to democracy with small steps taken in the right direction.

President Thein Sein has called upon the ethnic armed groups for cease-fire negotiations, invited exiles to return home, met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to work together on common issues confronting the nation, and pledged to work on eliminating corruption and alleviating the poverty of the masses. The speakers of the Lower and Upper houses, Thuya Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, recently met UN human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana and promised to promote and protect human rights and other related rights issues in on-going parliament sessions.

Reactions from Burmese political exiles, dissidents, ethnic armed groups and international Burma experts to these political developments ranged from a cautions welcome to outright rejection, with the majority adapting a wait-and-see attitude in the coming months.  Foremost among the issues is the release of political prisoners in order to achieve genuine national reconciliation.

There are many factors that might have influenced the minds of the leaders in Naypyitaw to embark upon steps towards a reform process. Many skeptics view it all as a staged show designed to present the civilian government in a favourable light to obtain international and regional recognition, especially eligibility for the up-coming Asean chairmanship. Ironically, these factors might have influenced the leaders in Naypyitaw to overcome their internal fears to engage the opposition in a political dialogue, perhaps with a push from the presidential advisory team of experts.

Similar to a Mount Everest climber who is constantly under imminent danger of avalanches, blizzards and storms, all political reform processes have slippery slopes and trenches littered with the skeletons of many reformers. Just like a climber who looks for a window of favourable weather to reach the top, the stakeholders in the reform process should take this window of opportunity to achieve genuine national reconciliation while keeping vigilant to the dangers of potential political avalanches while trying to preserve the sweet and soft smell of sandalwood afloat in the land of pagodas.

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