Explaining Myanmar's Regime Transition: The Periphery is Central
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In 2010, Myanmar (Burma) held its first elections after 22 years of direct military rule. Few compelling explanations for this regime transition have emerged. This article critiques popular accounts and potential explanations generated by theories of authoritarian ‘regime breakdown’ and ‘regime maintenance’. It returns instead to the classical literature on military intervention and withdrawal. Military regimes, when not terminated by internal factionalism or external unrest, typically liberalise once they feel they have sufficiently addressed the crises that prompted their seizure of power. This was the case in Myanmar. The military intervened for fear that political unrest and ethnic-minority separatist insurgencies would destroy Myanmar’s always-fragile territorial integrity and sovereignty. Far from suddenly liberalising in 2010, the regime sought to create a ‘disciplined democracy’ to safeguard its preferred social and political order twice before, but was thwarted by societal opposition. Its success in 2010 stemmed from a strategy of coercive state-building and economic incorporation via ‘ceasefire capitalism’, which weakened and co-opted much of the opposition. Having altered the balance of forces in its favour, the regime felt sufficiently confident to impose its preferred settlement. However, the transition neither reflected total ‘victory’ for the military nor secured a genuine or lasting peace.