2017 Myanmar Update, taking place at ANU this Friday and Saturday, will examine whether the country can overcome obstacles to reform.

A year after Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy were installed as Myanmar’s first popularly elected government in more than 50 years, a conference taking place at The Australian National University (ANU) this Friday and Saturday will examine remaining obstacles to ongoing political reform.

The 2017 Myanmar Update, hosted by the ANU Myanmar Research Centre, brings together more than 40 leading experts from around the world to examine the promises and pitfalls of the country’s incredible and rapid political, economic and social change.

Speakers include Dr Aung Tun Thet, Representative of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of the Myanmar Government, and Member of the Peace Commission.

Speaking before the conference co-convenor Justine Chambers said that despite initial optimism with the country’s new government and reforms, cracks have already appeared.

“The formation in 2016 of a new government in Myanmar, led by Suu Kyi, was a crucially important milestone in the country’s political transformation from seemingly never ending military rule and civil war, to freer and more open politics,” said Ms Chambers.

“However, in the past year fault-lines have begun to emerge in the transition — in the form of lethargic constitutional reform, rising commodity prices, escalating military campaigns and a growing land rights crisis across much of the country. Meanwhile, the majority of Myanmar’s people continue to struggle with poverty and dire debt, constraining their ability to enjoy the benefits of political and economic reform.”

Early 2017 sees Myanmar’s military skirmishing with ethnic Kachin insurgents and facing international accusations and condemnation for alleged human rights abuses against Muslim minority Rohingya. Prominent Muslim law reformer and Aung San Suu Kyi adviser U Ko Ni was also brazenly assassinated.

But despite these setbacks and challenges there glimmers of optimism amid Myanmar’s fitful transformation, says conference co-convenor Gerard McCarthy.

“Setbacks and challenges are expected in any political transition. In Myanmar, legacies of authoritarian rule – including military control of 25 per cent of parliament and a number of key ministries including the military and Home Affairs — have proven resilient, tying the hands of the new NLD government in a number of key areas,” said Mr McCarthy.

“Yet, this is only part of the picture. The majority of presenters for the 2017 Myanmar Update hail from Myanmar institutions – a sign of how far the country has come given that until recent years Myanmar scholars had few chances for engagement and exchange abroad.

“Clearly things are changing in Myanmar. Identifying what remains resilient, and how obstacles to a more inclusive and democratic Myanmar can be navigated, are essential as the NLD enters its second year as the first popularly-elected government in decades.”

The 2017 Myanmar Update takes place at the JG Crawford Building from 9am-5pm, 17-18 February. Register and find more details at: http://myanmar.anu.edu.au/events/myanmarburma-update/2017-myanmar-update