On April 1, citizens of Burma will head to the polls to vote in a parliamentary by-election. Normally, this isn't the sort of thing that would attract a lot of headlines, since only a small number of seats in the National Assembly are actually at stake.
But these are no ordinary elections. President Thein Sein has actively invited the participation of the National League of Democracy, Burma's main opposition party -- the first time the NLD has participated in an election since the national vote in 1990 that it won in a landslide. (Burma's military dictatorship subsequently annulled the result.) Given her immense popularity, NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is almost certain to win a seat. That, in itself, will amount to a crucial watershed in Burma's recent history. For the first time in some 60 years, the opposition will have a chance to voice its views from within the government.
How this will work out in practice remains unclear. Skeptics are right to worry that the game is rigged against the NLD. Even if it wins all of the 47 seats it is contesting, that is far short of anything like the kind of majority that will be needed for meaningful change. Yet the prospect of a real parliamentary opposition, however small, is not to be dismissed. NLD lawmakers and their allies will have the power to call the government to public account.
Of course, that doesn't meant any of Burma's myriad problems will be easy to fix. So we here at Foreign Policy decided to make our own contribution to the debates that are to come, inviting a cohort of experts from within Burma and abroad to suggest some innovative solutions. These "Ideas for Burma" will, we hope, serve as useful benchmarks for discussion -- however utopian some of them might seem at first glance. For it is vital to acknowledge that the forces of the old regime -- the same generals and ex-generals who have, over the past 60 years, brutalized and impoverished their own people -- still reign over Burma's current political and economic system today. In any case, helping Burma to overcome its difficult past will be impossible without frank discussion of the challenges ahead. It is in that spirit that we offer the following suggestions.
Brian Joseph: Create a multi-ethnic state
Tom Kramer and Martin Jelsma: Tackle Burma's drugs problem
Christina Fink: End the civil war
Ronald Findlay: Export or die
Francis Wade: Invite investment -- but with protections
Muang Wuntha: Support press freedom
Myat Htoo Razak: Health is wealth
Timothy Ryan: Let workers unionize freely
Sean Turnell: Cut the bloated military budget
Soe Thinn: Train Burma's new diplomats
Dr. Thein Lwin: Teach the children well
Tin Muang Muan Than: Unleash grassroots entrepreneurship
Andreas Valentin: Come visit, sustainably
David Steinberg: Promote the rule of law
Hanna Hindstrom: Make extractive industries more transparent
Ko Tar: Let the monks lead the way