Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

The Union of Myanmar (Burma) is now officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, and its new flag was unveiled for the first time last week. Is the change part of the so-called democratic reforms that the ruling junta promised to deliver in time for the widely anticipated November 7 elections?

As the image on the left shows, the new flag has a star at the centre set against a yellow, green and red background. According to the government, the green stripe represents peace, yellow solidarity, and red valour.

But many of the country’s netizens were both surprised and disappointed to see the introduction of the new flag. Commenters on message boards were quick to dismiss the flag as a poor imitation of the Lithuanian, Ethiopian and Ghanan flags. One commenter said the flag looked like it had been inspired by a drawing by one the junta generals’ grandchildren when they were testing out crayons. Another commenter, though, remarked that at least with its bright colors it might look good on souvenir t-shirts.

Some critics of the junta have linked the white star on the new flag with the star on the flag of Burma’s Tatmadaw—its navy, air force and police force—and claim that the new flag effectively only represents the country’s armed forces.

Part of the criticism over the new design likely stems from nostalgia for the flag that has been dropped. The old flag, which was introduced in 1974, also had specific meanings attached to its design—the red represented bravery and incisiveness, the blue peace and tranquility, white purity, and the 14 stars the 14 states and divisions. The rice stalk and the pinion represented farmers and workers.

The pro-democracy movement, which prefers Burma to Myanmar, accused the junta of violating its own Constitution by presenting the new flag last week. They say the junta-sponsored 2008 Constitution allowed for the changing of the flag only after the new parliament was convened. Since elections haven’t taken place yet, the new flag certainly seems a little premature.

Some still cling on to the hope that Burma’s decision to adopt a new flag and name will lead to more substantial reforms in the future, and that the upcoming elections might even produce genuinely democratic results. But realistically, the prospects for change seem remote as the junta won’t even allow dissident groups to participate in the polls.

The new flag and name, therefore, should be seen as a token reform meant to convince the public and the international community that change is happening in the country. But despite its new flag and name, Burma is still the same old place.

*written for The Diplomat

Malaysia: Warisan Merdeka Controversy

Does Malaysia need a 100-storey tower? It already has the globally renowned Petronas Twin Towers and Kuala Lumpur Tower. But now it plans to build a third iconic tower—the Warisan Merdeka.

There doesn’t appear to be anything untoward about the $5 billion MYR (about $1.6 billion USD) construction project, and Prime Minister Najib Razak himself announced the project during his presentation for next year’s budget. Yet Malaysians have protested that such a large amount is being spent on a single infrastructure project.

The government has since clarified that no public funds will be used for the building of the tower and it says it’s confident that the project will create thousands of jobs. It says that once finished, the tower will be a new symbol for a developing Malaysia as well as offering trickledown effects to other local industries and that it will boost the economy by attracting foreign companies.

But critics remain unconvinced. They want the funds to be diverted to other infrastructure projects, like improving public transportation and the construction of new schools and hospitals. Many are also worried that the government might be forced to bail-out the project if it fails to secure enough financing. Some also say that Kuala Lumpur is anyway already congested and that there’s an excess of rental office space in the city, so if a tower like this is to go ahead, it should be built in another city.

The vocal opposition has also taken to cyberspace. The ‘1M Malaysians Reject 100-storey Mega Tower’ Facebook page has garnered more than 200,000 supporters in just over two weeks, while a Youtube video has also been created opposing the project.

It’s possible there would have been less opposition if the project hadn’t been announced by the prime minister. But he did so, and what was meant to be a development project has now become a divisive political issue that has fuelled resentment against the government.

*written for The Diplomat

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