In Burma, rumours of reform are best taken with a pinch, or more, of salt. Hints of liberalization tend to trickle out of the closed-off nation every few years. But in nearly 50 years of military rule, little changed in the country sometimes known as Myanmar. Today, a nominally civilian government reigns in Rangoon, but the military remains dominant, if not all-powerful.
There are increasing signs, however, that real change may be in the offing. Public outcry recently forced President Thein Sein to put a temporary halt to a massive dam project on the Irrawaddy River. The development would have flooded a huge expanse of sensitive wetlands and forced thousands of villagers from their homes. In the past, none of that likely would have mattered. But this time, for whatever reason, it did. Whether the dam decision triggers deeper democratic change, however, remains to be seen. As democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi told the BBC: “I think I’d like to see a few more turns before I decide whether or not the wheels are moving along.”