Various ethnic Burmese and ethnic minority city-states or kingdoms occupied the present borders through the 19th century. Over a period of 62 years (1824-1886), Britain conquered Burma and incorporated the country into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; in 1948, Burma attained independence from the British Commonwealth. Gen. NE WIN dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. In response to widespread civil unrest, NE WIN resigned in 1988, but within months the military crushed student-led protests and took power.
Multiparty legislative elections in 1990 resulted in the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory. Instead of handing over power, the junta placed NLD leader (and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient) AUNG SAN SUU KYI under house arrest from 1989 to 1995, 2000 to 2002, and from May 2003 to November 2010. In late September 2007, the ruling junta brutally suppressed protests over increased fuel prices led by prodemocracy activists and Buddhist monks, killing an unknown number of people and arresting thousands for participating in the demonstrations. In early May 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, which left over 138,000 dead and tens of thousands injured and homeless. Despite this tragedy, the junta proceeded with its May constitutional referendum, the first vote in Burma since 1990. Legislative elections held in November 2010, which the NLD boycotted and many in the international community considered flawed, saw the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party garner over 75% of the contested seats.
The national legislature convened in January 2011 and selected former Prime Minister THEIN SEIN as president. Although the vast majority of national-level appointees named by THEIN SEIN were former or current military officers, the government initiated a series of political and economic reforms leading to a substantial opening of the long-isolated country. These reforms included releasing hundreds of political prisoners, signing a nationwide cease-fire with several of the country's ethnic armed groups, pursuing legal reform, and gradually reducing restrictions on freedom of the press, association, and civil society. At least due in part to these reforms, AUNG SAN SUU KYI was elected to the national legislature in April 2012 and became chair of the Committee for Rule of Law and Tranquility. Burma served as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2014. In a flawed but largely credible national legislative election in November 2015 featuring more than 90 political parties, the NLD again won a landslide victory. Using its overwhelming majority in both houses of parliament, the NLD elected HTIN KYAW, AUNG SAN SUU KYI’s confidant and long-time NLD supporter, as president. Burma's first credibly elected civilian government after more than five decades of military dictatorship was sworn into office on 30 March 2016.
In August 2017, members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya militant group, attacked security forces in northern Rakhine State, leading to a disproportionate response by Burmese security forces and local vigilantes that resulted in an unknown number of deaths. Since the conflict started, an estimated 710,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh as refugees. This refugee outflow followed a smaller scale displacement of Rohingya to Bangladesh after similar ARSA attacks in October 2016. The UN has called for Burma to allow access to a Fact Finding Mission to investigate reports of human rights violations and abuses and to work with Bangladesh to facilitate repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Burma rejected charges of ethnic cleansing and has chosen not to work with the UN Fact Finding Mission. In March 2018, President HTIN KYAW announced his voluntary retirement; parliamentarian WIN MYINT won a snap election to become president.