This year Aung San Suu Kyi’s close aide and trusted friend Htin Kyaw, whom she has installed as the President, took the responsibility to convey the government’s message, while she reluctantly perhaps stayed out of limelight on this occasion. Rightly so, one might say, with two pressing issues of ethnic and communal conflicts in Kachin, Shan and Arakan States, challenges she still couldn’t find solution to handle.
President Htin Kyaw’s key message was unity and the importance of the forthcoming 21st Century Panglong, that should lead to national reconciliation and achievement of peace.
He said: “If the history is any indication, it will be found that the country always enjoyed enormous benefits whenever the countrymen were united. An obvious example was the signing of the Panglong Pact in 1947. The Panglong Pact was a symbol of the unity of all indigenous races, and attainment of Myanmar independence could be attributed to this unity.”
“It is common knowledge that now again, effort is being put forth commencing from the 21st century Panglong conference to be able to establish a democratic, federal union which the indigenous people are desirous of. As the building of a democratic country or a democratic system can meet with success only through the participation of the majority of people, I would like to urge the entire mass of people in the country to join us with full democratic spirit and unity in building up a democratic, federal union,” he further stressed.
While the President Htin Kyaw’s speech might be seen as mobilizing the mass and giving importance to the spirit of unity anchored in the Panglong Agreement of 1947, the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing was spelling out the Military or Tatmadaw’s hard-line stance, in relation to the peace process.
Min Aung Hlaing reiterated the Tatmadaw’s coalition, although short of committing that it is taking orders from the civilian government, and cooperation as: “Now, the New Year 2017 comes in after the year 2016 has come out. The Tatmadaw passed significant events in all along the 2016. For the first point, the Tatmadaw participated in carrying out the work processes in the time of the government led by the National League for Democracy which won the election.”
His usage of the sensitive terms that spelled out its hard-line stance could be seen in part of his short speech, when he stressed: “Because of the armed ethnic insurgent-terrorists, some areas of Kachin State, northeast area of Shan State and northern area of Rakhine State were faced with deterioration of peace and stability, harming life and property of the people, which the Tatmadaw has made utmost efforts for restoring peace and stability by sacrificing lots of lives, blood and sweat.”
The Tatmadaw’s motion of labeling of the Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B) members as “terrorist organizations” was endorsed in Shan State parliament on 7 December, where the military bloc has the majority seats, which earlier was rejected in the union parliament, during the session on 2 December.
Again, strangely enough, in his new year speech, he started mentioning the vocabulary of “federal union”, which the Tatmadaw has all along refused to use. He said: “In the 2017 also, the Tatmadaw will continue cooperation in ensuring peace and stability of the State, undertaking development and emergence of the Union based on democracy and federal system. I request the entire ethnic people to make cooperation in all tasks.”
Even then, the indication on the ground is clear enough as to what the Military is planning and where it is heading to, as the offensives on Kachin Independence Army (KIA), that drove its troops from strategic mountaintop base of Gidon on 17 December and Lai Hpawng outpost near the Kachin fighters’ Laiza headquarters fell to the Tatmadaw on 28 December, unmistakably pointed out its war path commitment, rather than negotiation.
The KIA has been locked in a protracted conflict with the Military that began in 2011 and the recent heightened offensives on its positions have been ongoing since some four months. In order to counter and take away the heat of the Tatmadaw’s onslaught, the KIA together with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), dubbed as the Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B), conducted a counter-offensive, banking on the strategy of “The best defensive is the offensive”, in Muse Township, northern Shan State on 20 November. This had angered the Tatmadaw and possibly pushed it to sacrifice the large amount of human toll and financial cost to overrun the KIA bases, that was said to be calculated in millions of dollars, by independent observers.
Although the KIA has termed the counter-offensive as a limited war and has since withdrawn the operation after a few weeks, the fallout from it continues to simmer on with armed clashes occurring on a daily basis in northern Shan State until today.
For Suu Kyi, as if it was not enough fighting an uphill battle against international opinion regarding the Rohingya problematic, on the eve of the noble prize laureates of 23 petitioning to look into the human rights violations in Arakan State to the United Nation’s Security Council, added accusation surfaced that the National League for Democracy (NLD) didn’t even have a program, as a national party an appropriate position paper on federalism, which it vowed to establish.
On 29 December, Oo Hla Saw, an outspoken Lower House lawmaker representing Arakan State’s Mrauk U, an Arakan National Party (ANP) Central Executive Committee member (CEC), told The Irrawaddy of his frustration on the government’s inability to deliver.
He said: “The government has publicly said that it would build a federal democratic Union, but we can’t even feel the slightest essence of federalism, and ethnic groups are frustrated with the central government. There are big problems and big challenges.”
“Frankly speaking, the NLD-dominated parliament has not thought about federalism in advance. They should have [developed] moderate thoughts in advance about how they Bamars could co-exist amicably with ethnicities, what models of federalism could be built, and what concessions they could make,” he stressed pointedly.
He further buttressed his opinion, which is not far from reality as: “And the army does not seem to think about it. It even says that the 2008 Constitution already provides a federal union. And I believe that there is no theory teaching about federalism in the NLD. I think that NLD CEC members have zero knowledge about federalism.”
Summing up, the Commander-in-Chief new year message is not at all encouraging to advance the peace negotiation process, while President Htin Kyaw’s speech is somewhat soothing, it failed to address the ongoing peace process in any concrete term, especially on how to end the raging armed conflict initiated by the Tatmadaw in the Shan and Kachin States, plus any durable theoretical solution to the communal conflict in Arakan State that is threatening to blow out of proportion. And capping all these woes and problems is the lack of NLD’s party programme or position paper regarding the constitutional crisis. In other words, its party’s take and lack of it on federalism or formation of a federal union governance system.
The Tatmadaw is bent on keeping its self-drawn, 2008 constitution in tact and is determined to pull through its “negotiated surrender” stance vis a vis the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), together with its disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) implementation, which the EAOs see it as akin to negotiated surrender.
The government position seems to be to go along with the Tatmadaw’s policy implementation, even though it failed to spell out transparently in official manner, Nai Han Thar, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) leader in it recent interview of 29 December, in Kachin News Group said that the NLD was just the follower of the Tatmadaw. He used the word “Nauk Mee Swear” in Burmese, which literally means “lackey”.
He even pointed out that Suu Kyi was taking sides with the Tatmadaw on the recent conflict in the northern part of the country between the Tatmadaw and the NA-B, which was uncalled for and also inappropriate, considering the fact that the ethnic groups have put the hope on her as a credible mediator between the warring parties.
Suu Kyi was blaming the NA-B, which has launched the counter-offensive on 20 November, while she was praising the Tatmadaw on the recent armed conflict.
On top of this, there is the lack of position paper or party program on federalism that contributes to the lack of targeted political negotiation progress, after some five years of starting it.
NLD, that considers itself a national party, cross-cutting the ethnic lines, should have in its basic party program the federal union formation proposal, which it would also make use of in political give-and-take. It is in no way an appropriate stance to just excuse itself by saying that it will wait for the collective decision-making outcome, on how the future system of governance would look like, even if it is the ruling party of the government in power.
It should be noted that in a matured democracy, “Party programmes fulfill different functions. The basic party programme constitutes the identity of the party and offers a general orientation to the citizens and voters on the guiding principles and ideas of a party. With its programme, the party justifies its existence and explains how it differentiates itself from others. The party programme illustrates the political ambition and basic values, demands and suggestions of a party,” according to a booklet titled, “Political Parties Functions and Organisation in Democratic Societies”, written by Wilhelm Hofmeister and Karsten Grabow.
If the UNFC, United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and even the Tatmadaw have more or less their position papers or program on federalism in place, it is only normal and appropriate for the the NLD also to own one. After all, NLD is also part of the political party cluster that has to participate in the peace process, not a referee or overseer of the political dialogue process.
Having said that, the Tatmadaw’s preconceived position of negotiated surrender of the EAOs or nothing, plus its self-appointed protector of the nation’s sovereignty; and the NLD government’s lack of basic party program on federalism wouldn’t lead to the fruitful achievement of peace and reconciliation, which is intended to be thrashed out at the forthcoming Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong. Like it or not, for now, only pessimism is in the air.
Very good points indeed!
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