Week 7: Reform Coalitions: Transition Governments

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In this presentation, a general introduction to reform coalitions, rent-seeking, and politics of reform was introduced.  Transitional governments are often beholden to previous figures of power and can often be thrown off track by vested interests seeking rents. As such, processes for reform and transition are political in nature.  Different groups with differing vested interests and desires vie for influence in the processes of transition.  Understanding the key stakeholders in Myanmar’s transition is key to understanding the risks lying behind the process.  Having been a military regime since the coopted 1988 election, and having endured decades of one-party rule under a socialist (in name only) regime, Myanmar had not experienced democratic governance since decolonization.  With the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi and the gradual liberalization of the military regime, Myanmar faces an uncertain future.  If a successful transition is to happen, all need a say, including minorities who often face the military’s wrath.

An article that was read for introductory purposes prior to the presentation titled The Political Economy of Myanmar’s Transition was useful in that it laid out all important stakeholders in Myanmar’s transition to democratic rule.  The key to a successful transition is navigating the politics of it.  Alienating large segments of society is risky in that is can spark further instability. Empowering one group over the rest is risky in that their rent-seeking ability might monopolize their own greed and power.  Ultimately, reform coalitions need to compromise when it comes to reform processes and all sides should see some sort of benefit.  Although this presentation was a good introduction to reform processes, it has certainly piqued my interest.  Being in the Governance and Statebuilding pathway, I feel that it an important concept to research further, and admittedly I had little background knowledge on reform coalitions and transitional governance.

Interestingly, this presentation also got me thinking about other nations that are in transition.  South Sudan keeps coming to mind, with it being in the news almost daily due to its civil war, atrocities, and status as the world’s newest nation.  South Sudan looked like a bright spot in a dark Central Africa, but it has ultimately fallen prey to the typical patterns of greed and failed transitionary politics.  In 2011, when the nation gained its independence through referendum, the world was eager to present it as a model of successful governance and reform.  Setting up a state from scratch looked possible. Ultimately it was not only ethnic strife that put it on a trajectory towards civil war; it was ultimately greed behind two competing elites that causes the conflict we see today.  These elites ultimately hijacked South Sudan’s promising future and dashed hopes of successful coalition building and compromise while also stoking historic ethnic tensions that have existed for some time.

Here’s a useful article by Vox on South Sudan’s downfall: South Sudan’s Crisis Explained

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