This column was published in The Myanmar Times on Monday, 6 June 2016.
On 6 November 2005, the capital officially shifted from Yangon to Naypyitaw. I know it is a curious habit, but I think of that day often.
At the time, it was almost impossible to assess the significance of the pivotal move.
For a start, very few people were privy to the generals’ grand design for the new city. Even those who went on to play key roles in the development of Nay Pyi Taw were in the dark about the purpose of the new constructions at the Pyinmana site or their relationship to the proposed political transformation.
Much of the world’s initial information about Nay Pyi Taw came from distant musings and well-intentioned conjecture. With strict censorship and deep suspicion of so-called “destructive elements”, very few people in Myanmar could adequately interpret what was going on.
The move to Nay Pyi Taw was a time when the shadows around the military regime lengthened, and the top leaders bunkered down. The best guess back then was that the army would struggle to ever share power with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
Internet discussion forums echoed with the shrill speculation of those who anticipated an abrupt end to military dictatorship. Revolution still seethed at the margins. At the time, many people imagined a final, and violent, verdict on the decades of army rule. It was not to be.
Five years and one day later, on 7 November 2010, the people of Myanmar went to the polls for the first time in a generation.
We know the NLD boycotted the election, and the vote was neither free nor fair. Unsurprisingly, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) picked up the vast majority of seats.
The USDP’s strong electoral showing gave a generation of top military figures a further half-decade to mould the direction of reform.
We can now appreciate that some key players also worked hard to rehabilitate the country’s sputtering economy. A great deal of energetic and productive work occurred.
After the 2010 election, every aspect of society morphed, often for the better.
It was also in these years that Nay Pyi Taw, once a secret city, became much more accessible. Restrictions on access to the so-called abode of kings melted away, as its civilianised custodians revelled in their new roles as reformers-in-chief.
The business of legislative creativity and constitutionally defined executive authority gave the city a pulse. People flocked from around the world to see for themselves whether Myanmar’s changes were for real.
The jury, throughout these years, equivocated about whether or not the generals could be finally trusted to deliver a more democratic tomorrow.
Then, on 8 November 2015, after another five years and one day, the NLD triumphed in an election called by the USDP government. For many people, this marked the final stage of the military’s guiding role in national politics.
When the first results came in, celebrations reverberated around the country, and around the world. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. It was a day for the history books.
The months since that vote have seen the NLD take the top positions in government and move, gradually, toward embedding a political arrangement that restores popular legitimacy and national pride.
Naturally enough, the cheerful images of an NLD president and state counsellor, now tasked with reinforcing the tentative moves toward a more democratic regime, get so much warm attention.
Of course, over the next few years, U Htin Kyaw and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have an unfair amount of work to do. It will take luck, timing and some auspicious confluences for the NLD to deliver on its mandate for genuine and long-lasting change.
So, what might happen on 9 November 2020, five years and one day after the 2015 vote? It will be a Monday. Beyond that, I have not the faintest idea.
But I can imagine that somebody, somewhere, is already planning the next steps in their efforts to further shift Myanmar’s political direction.
People make their decisions, especially big decisions, based on all sorts of evidence and often seek to find meaning in patterns across time and space. Calendrical knowledge plays a big part in how human societies manage the vagaries of life.
Myanmar’s battalions of fortune-tellers and numerologists know that it is good business to make culturally attuned claims to support political and personal decisions. Many Myanmar people consult their favourite seers in the hope of better handling what the future has to offer.
With this background, and given the pattern of change since 6 November 2005, I would certainly draw a circle around 9 November on the 2020 calendar.
Obviously, it is a mistake to believe that everything happens for a reason. We also make an error if we gormlessly judge that there is no plan.
Nicholas Farrelly is Director of the Myanmar Research Centre at the Australian National University and co-founder of New Mandala. His column appears at The Myanmar Times each Monday.