Asia

Myanmar country profile

  • 30 March 2016
  • From the section Asia
Map of Myanmar

Myanmar, also known as Burma, was long considered a pariah state while under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011.

The generals who ran the country suppressed almost all dissent - symbolised by the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - and stood accused of gross human rights abuses, prompting international condemnation and sanctions.

A gradual liberalisation process has been under way since 2010. The country is expected to see a major shift after the government changed hands early in 2016.

The dominance of the largest ethnic group, the Burman or Bamar people, over the country's many minorities has been fuelling a series of long-running rebellions, although a gradual peace process yielded a draft ceasefire deal in 2015.

KEY FACTS

Republic of the Union of Myanmar

Capital: Nay Pyi Taw

  • Population 48.7 million

  • Currency Kyat

  • Area 676,552 sq km (261,218 sq miles)

  • Major language Burmese, minority languages

  • Major religions Buddhism

  • Life expectancy 64 years (men), 68 years (women)

AFP

LEADERS

President: Htin Kyaw

Image copyright EPA

Htin Kyaw was sworn in as president in March 2016, ushering in the first democratically elected government into office after decades of military rule.

Rightfully, the job belonged to Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been the face of the pro-democracy movement and who endured decades of house arrest and harassment by military rulers without ever giving up on her non-violent campaign to unseat them.

But Suu Kyi was barred by the constitution from becoming president, and she made it clear that whoever sits in that chair will be her proxy. She has said repeatedly she will run the government from behind the scenes.

Htin Kyaw will be remembered by history as the first civilian president for Myanmar and the head of its first government to be elected in free and fair polls.

The military retains considerable amount of power in the government and parliament.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Aung San Suu Kyi symbolised opposition to military rule

MEDIA

Image copyright AFP

Myanmar's media have seen a gradual easing of strict state controls imposed after the 1962 military coup.

Under reforms introduced since 2011 by a new government, Myanmar has unblocked international news websites, emigre news websites and YouTube. In 2012, it lifted pre-publication censorship for the press and allowed privately-owned daily newspapers to publish.

But the state still controls the main broadcasters and publications and has a monopoly on telecommunications.

TIMELINE

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The ruined city of Pagan, capital of the Kingdom of Pagan

1057 - King Anawrahta founds the first unified Myanmar state at Pagan and adopts Theravada Buddhism.

1531 - Toungoo dynasty reunites country as Burma.

1885-86 - Burma comes under British rule.

1948 - Burma becomes independent.

1962 - The military junta takes over, initially in the shape of a single-party socialist system.

1990 - Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) wins landslide victory in elections, but the military ignores the result.

2011 - The military hands over to a nominally civilian government following elections the previous year.

2015 - Elections. Opposition National League for Democracy - led by Aung San Suu Kyi - wins enough seats in parliament to form a government.

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