Book Review by: Paiso Jamakar
With the average individual in Myanmar earning just $1306 a year, the people Myanmar,
formerly named Burma, have among the lowest incomes in the world. Measured on a
purchasing power parity (PPP) basis by the International Monetary Fund, the country ranks
No. 159, belonging almost to the lowest 9th lowest group among 180 countries, with mostly
African countries ranking lower, except for Afghanistan, Eritrea and Haiti that are located
The author Ian Holiday, a professor of political science at the University of Hong Kong,
points out that Burma experienced a military coup, and democratic rule was suspended in
1962. The country’s rulers have run it as a sort of socialist state, throwing away free-market
capitalism. In the latter form, the individual has economic opportunities available to him and
is responsible for his own prosperity or lack thereof.
Economic repression under state socialism and political repression under successive military
dictatorships have led to impoverishment in Myanmar. Add to this the instilling of fear into
Myanmar’s 60 million people by rapacious military leaders over decades, it is no surprise
that the country’s economic situation has deteriorated to such a dismal state of affairs, with
the average person mired in poverty and sustaining himself on barely over $100 a month.
Ian Holliday points out that suppression of freedoms is another aspect of the daily lives of
the masses. He writes in his Introduction that for almost a quarter century, Myanmar has
been ruled by generals that have held almost total power, have enriched themselves and their
friends and associates through corruption, and have commit widespread acts of human eights
abuse, and have consistently repressed criticism of their wrongdoings.
Not many books have been written on Myanmar, so Holliday’s extensive and intensive
examination of the this country’s state of affairs in this book is a pioneering contribution
to understanding its problems and helping its people achieve freedom and foster economic
Through eight chapters, he looks at Myanmar’s political history, starting with British
rule prior to its independence in 1948; through its many transformations and phases, such
as ‘liberal Burma,’ ‘nationalist Burma,’ ‘democratic Burma,’ ‘revolutionary Burma,’
and ‘socialist Burma’.
The book is neatly organized into four ‘D’ chapters, followed by four ‘I’ chapters, to make
for easy recall of its political past, present and future. The first four are entitled: dependence
and disintegration; dominion and dissent; dictatorship and deadlock; and democracy and
deliberation, as possibly a way of showing political progress toward a rule of the people, for
the people and by the people.
The next four are entitled: inattention and involvement; injustice and implication;
intervention and interaction; and intercession and investment.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who founded the National Leadership for Democracy and has been
working tirelessly (and fearlessly) for decades for true democracy in Myanmar, is a bright
spot for the country’s future. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Ian Holliday points out in his Conclusion that when a “national reconciliation and sustainable
democracy are urgently sought by opposition figures, it would deliver on the many demands
of global justice generated by the quest for political reform in the difficult Myanmar case.”