YANGON - Myanmar's military government has begun the largest sell-off of state assets in the country's history, including more than 100 government buildings, port facilities and a large stake in the national airline, diplomats and businessmen here say.
The sell-off, analysts say, appears to be part of a political transition as the government introduces elections for the first time in 20 years and a new Constitution under which the military seems likely to perpetuate its rule, though more from behind the scenes.
Diplomats and businessmen say that the sales may allow ruling generals to build up cash for election campaigns to the new Parliament, where they will hold 25 per cent of seats, or to pay for salary increases for civil servants and other populist measures. Many of the assets are being sold to businessmen allied with the military.
But the privatisations could also have the effect of injecting some competition into what is an almost Soviet-style economic system, and some analysts here say they may herald a shift in direction.
Myanmar's military junta nationalised most industries when it took power in a 1962 coup and has controlled the lion's share of the economy since. Most major industries, like the telecommunications business, power plants, fuel distribution and health care, remain in the hands of the state.
The assets being sold include the country's fuel import and distribution network, gem and tin mines, farmland and factories, according to businessmen who have seen announcements of the sales.
The government has put out word that it is selling factories producing soft drinks, cigarettes and bicycles, among other commercial goods, according to Mr U Phone Win, the head of a non-profit organisation that assists people in rural areas.
It is also opening the healthcare and education sectors to private enterprise, Mr Phone Win said, issuing licences for the first time for private hospitals and schools. "There are opportunities here for the international business community," he said.
In recent days, the country's Privatisation Commission produced a list of 176 assets in Yangon, the main city, to be auctioned off sometime over the next few weeks. The 18-page list includes a wide-ranging roster of buildings in Yangon worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The buildings were abandoned when the capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2005.