Myanmar, also known as Burma, was long considered a pariah state while under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011.
The generals who ran the country suppressed almost all dissent – symbolised by the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi – and stood accused of gross human rights abuses, prompting international condemnation and sanctions.
A gradual liberalisation process has been under way since 2010. The country is expected to see a major shift when the government changes hands early in 2016.
The dominance of the largest ethnic group, the Burman or Bamar people, over the country’s many minorities has been fuelling a series of long-running rebellions, although a gradual peace process yielded a draft ceasefire deal in 2015.
Outgoing president: Thein Sein
Thein Sein was sworn into office in March 2011 at the head of the nominally civilian government that replaced almost 50 years of military rule.
Despite being hand-picked by long-serving junta leader Senior General Than Shwe as his successor, he is seen as a reformist, and has overseen a gradual democratisation process.
The first partly free elections in 2010 were boycotted by the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the last free elections in 1990 – a result that was annulled by the junta.
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest soon after the 2010 election, and her party won enough parliamentary seats in the 2015 elections to form a government.
Myanmar’s media have seen a gradual easing of strict state controls imposed after the 1962 military coup.
Under reforms introduced since 2011 by a new government, Myanmar has unblocked international news websites, emigre news websites and YouTube. In 2012, it lifted pre-publication censorship for the press and allowed privately-owned daily newspapers to publish.
But the state still controls the main broadcasters and publications and has a monopoly on telecommunications.
1057 – King Anawrahta founds the first unified Myanmar state at Pagan and adopts Theravada Buddhism.
1531 – Toungoo dynasty reunites country as Burma.
1885-86 – Burma comes under British rule.
1948 – Burma becomes independent.
1962 – The military junta takes over, initially in the shape of a single-party socialist system.
1990 – Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) wins landslide victory in elections, but the military ignores the result.
2011 – The military hands over to a nominally civilian government following elections the previous year.
2015 – Elections. Opposition National League for Democracy – led by Aung San Suu Kyi – wins enough seats in parliament to form a government.
All copyrights for this article are reserved to bbc asia