Myanmar dispatch: military junta’s announcement of new currency printing celebrates Buddhism but reflects and promotes instability Dispatches
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Myanmar dispatch: military junta’s announcement of new currency printing celebrates Buddhism but reflects and promotes instability

Myanmar law students are reporting for JURIST on challenges to the rule of law in their country under the military junta that deposed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. 

On Sunday, the Central Bank of Myanmar made an announcement concerning currency. The main points of the announcement were as follows. 

  • The central bank of Myanmar, which like the rest of the government structure is under the authority of the ruling military junta, is going to print 20,000 MMK notes as new currency because of two conditions. One is to mark the finishing of the “Marawisaya” Buddha image which has been built for three objectives: 1) to show the shining of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar, 2) to be the centre of Theravada Buddhism and 3) to get peace in country and all over the world. The other occasion for currency printing is the 1st year birthday celebration of the white elephant “Ya Hta Nan Daka” 
  • The currency is printed by limitation and by changing with the same value of existing currency which is old and unfit for use. As a priority, the currency must be changed in the Central Bank of Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon Branch and Mandalay Branch with the same value.
  • Current wandering legal currency and coin continue as legal currency. This new paper will be legal and ready for use starting on 31 July 2023. 

In the announcement, the features of the new paper are described as follows: 

The structure of the 20,000 kyat is 15 cm length and 7 cm width with the light green colour. On the front side, “Central Bank of Myanmar ” caption is situated at the top, the picture of white elephant which is made by Myanmar traditional art is pressed in the middle and the value of currency 20,000 MMK is printed by Myanmar characters. At the three corners, the value of currency is printed in Myanmar and English. The number of currency in Myanmar characters is printed horizontally and in English vertically.On the left side of the currency is the  water mark of the head of the elephant. On the left and right side of the currency has twelve short lines for each side that is to help the unsighted person.On the back side, the picture of Sagaing Bridge and Ayeyarwady Bridge (Yandanarbon), at the top “CENTRAL BANK OF MYANMAR”caption, at the bottom “TWENTY THOUSAND” caption are printed. Like the front, the value of currency is printed at the three corners in Myanmar and English. If you look at various perspectives, you can see the changing of gold to green colour as the colour shift of the security string is buried vertically. 

The announcement of the Central Bank mainly highlights a series of religious events as the main reason for printing this new 20000 MMK cash. It is obvious. however, that this is not the true reason for this action by the State Administrative Council (SAC), which is having great trouble controlling currency inflation in the country. Looking at the SAC’s religious nationalism being the headline of such an important announcement for the nation, it reflects SAC’s attempt to rule the country without its people’s will. Myanmar is a nation with very diverse ethnic groups and religious beliefs and that is why Myanmar is constantly on the path for transition towards federal democracy. Despite the SAC claiming itself to be the “official government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar”, the SAC fails to represent the nation because uplifting one religion (Buddhism) should not be the official posture of the whole nation. 

Moreover, this highlights the continuous attempts of Myanmar’s military personnel to deprive the people of religious freedom by favoring one religion over many others. Religion has been a sensitive discussion topic in Myanmar’s political environment for decades. With this announcement, the military are once again outing themselves as the active offenders of the Rohingya Muslim genocide that has occurred in Rakhine State and is currently ongoing in many parts of the nation. 

The likely impact of this currency announcement will be an increase in prices and a threat to the stability of Myanmar’s economy. More uncertainty can be expected from the SAC so any business investment will suffer greatly. As a law student who is trying to finance her school fees to continue legal education outside the country, this announcement will double the amount of expense I estimated just a few months ago. What I could formerly afford I now may not be able to. Even inside Myanmar, as a citizen who commutes by car and motorbike, gas prices for me and for others are going to soar. Gradually, we will notice the impact of all this. But since the announcement was made on Sunday, we have not fully seen how people and private banks will react to this on business days.