Kristian Stokke is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oslo. His research examines questions of democratisation, peace and civil society politics in South and Southeast Asia, with special attention to politics of peace and democracy in Myanmar.
He has published several research articles and edited books on these subjects, including Politicising Democracy: The New Local Politics of Democratisation (with John Harriss and Olle Törnquist, 2004), Rethinking Popular Representation (with Olle Törnquist and Neil Webster, 2009), Liberal Peace in Question: The Politics of State and Market Reforms in Sri Lanka (with Jayadeva Uyangoda, 2011), Democratization in the Global South: The Importance of Transformative Politics (with Olle Törnquist, 2013) and Politics of Citizenship in Indonesia (with Eric Hiariej, 2017). See also: http://www.sv.uio.no/iss/english/people/aca/stokke/index.html
Summary of Project:
Democratic transition or autocratic reforms? The character and outcome of the democratic opening in Burma/Myanmar
Following five decades of military dictatorship, Myanmar saw a democratic opening after the change of government in 2011. The government of President Thein Sein and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) initiated a series of reforms in favour of formal democracy, economic liberalization and ceasefire agreements. This created new political spaces and strategic dilemmas for political parties, ethnic organizations and civil society organizations. It also altered Myanmar's foreign relations, where Western states moved from economic and military sanctions towards normalized diplomatic and economic relations after 2011. These reforms created optimism about the prospects for democratization, peace and development, but there were also critical questions about the character and substance of the democratic opening. The USDP government and the military showed little willingness to move beyond limited reforms and to open up for constitutional changes in favour of democratic control over the military and substantive devolution of power within a federal state.
By 2013 the reform process seemed to have stalled. The political parties and popular movements that had championed the causes of democracy and federalism in opposition to the military regime remained politically excluded, while the benefits of economic growth and the negative impacts of investment projects was geographically and socially uneven. The critical question that emerged in this situation was whether Myanmar’s reforms constituted a democratic transition or rather a top-down process of concessions aimed at sustaining autocratic power with increased domestic and international legitimacy.
If, as today seems likely, Myanmar can best be understood as a case of autocratic reforms, what are the implications in terms of outcomes? What do autocratic reforms entail in terms of civil/military-, central/local- and state/society-relations? What, more specifically, are the prospects for progress towards substantive democracy and communal peace? Will the reforming autocratic state be able to prevent the formation and mobilization of broad popular alliances?