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BLOG: CGHR talk - Professor Ian Holliday, Liberalism and Democracy in Myanmar

last modified Mar 27, 2019 12:17 PM
Andrew Eslich, MPhil in Latin American Studies, coordinator of CGHR's Student Group wrote about the talk given by Professor Ian Holliday, The University of Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, the 5thof February, the Centre of Governance and Human Rights welcomed Professor Ian Holliday, Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong, to give a talk on his recently published book, Liberalism and Democracy in Myanmar (Oxford University Press, 2018), co-authored with Professor Roman David. This book seeks to better understand the state of democracy and liberalism in this country, as well as the possibilities for liberal democracy in Myanmar. During this well-attended lunchtime talk, Professor Holliday shared their research findings about Myanmar’s decade of transition, in which the country simultaneously moved away from authoritarian rule and underwent a crisis of tolerance in the state and in wider society.  He began by explaining the methods and framework through which they sought to better comprehend these phenomena within the larger social and political frameworks. Field research started in 2014 and lasted four years and consisted of semi-structured interviews and surveys. They approached the project through a comparative framework to trace liberalism and illiberalism manifested in five different dimensions: historically, constitutionally, among elite and mass actors, in ethnic and other group relations, and in transitional justice proceedings. 

The insights garnered from looking at these five dimensions of Myanmar’s politics led Professor Holliday and his co-author to conclude that Myanmar is in a state of “limited liberalism”, in which inconsistent beliefs and contradictory views manifest across these different areas. 

The subsequent discussion with the audience probed further some of the particular features of Myanmar’s politics vis-à-vis its region. Discussion raised questions about rural/urban divides in experiences of limited liberalism, the role of monks and religion in sustaining its contradictory politics, dominant societal narratives and the effects of foreign investment. Through this, Professor Holliday suggested the potential value of a broader regional analysis of “limited illiberalism” in neighbouring countries.