On 20 January in Yangon, Myanmar, Ricardo Lagos, President of Chile between 2000–2006, officially launched Democratic Transitions: Learning from World Leaders, published by International IDEA and Club de Madrid with support from the European Union. The book is the Myanmar-language edition of Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, which is co-edited by Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal, and is an initiative of International IDEA.
Speaking at the launch event in Yangon, President Lagos described how he played a pivotal role in steering Chile away from its military past. It took patience and perseverance to convince the military, which had solidified its prominent role in governance through a one-sided constitution, to return to the barracks.
“In politics you do what you can,” he said, “and you have to do so with passion, forcefully, so that people see you truly believe in what you are calling for.”
In the publication, former leaders recount their countries’ transitions from authoritarianism towards more open, democratic societies. Among others, B. J. Habibie shares his thoughts on Indonesia’s transition from a military-dominated government to civilian rule, while Spain’s Felipe González reflects on his decision-making role in the post-General Franco period.
In a special testimony written for the Myanmar edition, renowned political science professor Francis Fukuyama states that “many of the challenges now facing Myanmar as it seeks to build a democracy are similar to those faced by other countries in the past, and this volume will provide useful points of comparison”.
At the launch, EU Ambassador Roland Kobia said: “I am grateful to President Lagos for coming to Myanmar to offer his experience in leading a nation in transition. The European Union, which itself emerged from conflict, will continue to assist Myanmar on its path to peace and democracy.”
During the event, a panel featuring prominent democratic figures Daw Lahpai Seng Raw and U Ko Ko Gyi shared their own views on Myanmar’s transition to democracy. Daw Lahpai Seng Raw talked about key issues of inclusions to ensure a successful transition.
“We are at a crucial turning point in our country’s history. At present, a division once again threatens progress between groups, some of which may put their own self-advantage before the achievement of an over-arching accord that brings all peoples together. We must therefore bridge our differences to establish a new political system that will unify our country while at the same time providing space for our diversity in both cultures and histories.”
According to Jorge Valladares, International IDEA’s Head of Mission in Myanmar, “the transition in Myanmar still has a long way to go”.
“Key issues such as civil-military relations, democratization and federalism need years to play out and be fully resolved. Patience and the ability to compromise are going to be key.”