The Political Economy of Myanmar's Transition
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Journal of Contemporary Asia
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Since holding elections in 2010, Myanmar has transitioned from a direct military dictatorship to a formally democratic system and has embarked on a period of rapid economic reform. After two decades of military rule, the pace of change has startled almost everyone and led to a great deal of cautious optimism. To make sense of the transition and assess the case for optimism, this article explores the political economy of Myanmar's dual transition from state socialism to capitalism and from dictatorship to democracy. It analyses changes within Myanmar society from a critical political economy perspective in order to both situate these developments within broader regional trends and to evaluate the country's current trajectory. In particular, the emergence of state-mediated capitalism and politico-business complexes in Myanmar's borderlands are emphasised. These dynamics, which have empowered a narrow oligarchy, are less likely to be undone by the reform process than to fundamentally shape the contours of reform. Consequently, Myanmar's future may not be unlike those of other Southeast Asian states that have experienced similar developmental trajectories.