Postcard from Myanmar - July 2015

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Welcome to the latest edition of BLP's monthly Myanmar update. We have distilled the latest Myanmar news into this 'speed read'. Please get in touch for more information.

1. Myanmar sets General Election date for 8 November 2015

Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) has made an official announcement that the much-anticipated general election is to take place this year on 8 November 2015. The election will see more than 1100 seats in national and regional parliaments contested across the country, and is largely regarded as the country’s first credible nationwide election in 25 years. The military, which had ruled the country since 1964, scheduled the last general election in 2010 under circumstances which were widely viewed as favouring the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) boycotted the 2010 election on account of what it perceived to be unjust electoral laws, and this will therefore be the first nationwide poll to put the NLD against the USDP.

2. Constitutional Amendment Bill - Update

The military has blocked certain amendments to the Constitution, following the tabling of two Constitutional Amendment Bill in parliament on 10 June 2015. In particular, the military used their 25% bloc in parliament to vote against amending sections 436(a) and (b) which currently require 75% of lawmakers’ votes in favour to approve constitutional reform. The proposed amendment would have reduced the 75% threshold to 70%, thereby curbing the military’s power. The amendment is particularly pertinent for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD, who remains barred from becoming President in the absence of constitutional reform.

Debate on the second Constitutional Amendment Bill began at the end of June 2015.

3. Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) considers delegation of investment powers

U Aung Naing Oo, Director General of Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) has announced that the MIC is planning to delegate the power to approve certain investments to the state and regional governments. The overriding ambition behind this proposed delegation is to enable regional governments to develop their economies independently by allowing them greater powers to approve certain projects. A prerequisite for these plans will therefore involve making amendments to the existing Foreign Investment Law and Myanmar Citizens Law, which currently do not allow states and regional governments to approve investments. While it has been reported that these amendments are expected to be passed in advance of the election on 8 November 2015, in addition to the Myanmar Investment Law which aims to combine the Foreign investment Law and the Myanmar Citizens Investment Law, this does not seem likely given the election timeframe.

4. Myanmar announces its first minimum wage

Myanmar is to introduce its first ever minimum wage of 3,600 kyat (US$ 3.24) for an eight hour day. The National Committee on the Minimum Wage (NCMW) announced the proposal on 24 June 2015 following twelve months of negotiations between the government, employers and labour unions. Stakeholders have been given two months to respond to the proposal before the issue goes to parliament, and, so far, the proposal has been met with a mixed response. Although views from outside Yangon tend to be more positive, some labour unions are pushing for higher pay whilst some factory owners, particularly in the garment industry, are conversely arguing that their businesses will become unsustainable. Once a decision has been made, the Minimum Wage Law, which was first approved in early 2013, is intended to be implemented with immediate effect.

5. Government announces Yangon Development Plan

Mayor U Hla Myint has unveiled detailed plans for proposed growth for seven satellite towns around Yangon’s regional parliament. The development proposal, which was initially put forward by the Yangon City Development Committee and developed jointly with the Japan international Cooperation Agency, aims to divide Yangon into seven sections: (i) North East Yangon; (ii) South West Yangon; (iii) Dala township; (iv) Thanlyin township; (v) Htantabin township; (vi) Hmawbi township; and (vii) Hlegu township. The project is expected to cost US$7.4 billion and aims to accommodate 10 million people (up from 5 million) by 2040, tackle traffic congestion, and also provide increased job opportunities. The proposal was approved by Yangon’s regional parliament on 19 June 2015 by an overwhelming majority with 113 of 115 lawmakers in favour.

6. Government introduces new K10,000 note

On 1 July 2015, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) introduced a new series of K10,000 notes. The new series is intended to be more durable and possess upgraded security features to prevent forgery. CBM has said that the legal tender status of the first series of K10,000 notes will not be affected.

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