People are generally at a lost on why the National League for Democracy (NLD) party that won the 2015 nationwide election on a landslide couldn’t deliver its Election Manifesto of political change that it has promised to the electorate.
The 2015 Election Manifesto clearly campaigned for the change of the people’s lives, where the NLD promised to strive for:
Regarding the ethnic affairs specifically, the Manifesto said the following actions will be taken for ethnic affairs and internal peace:
But as all know, in addition to the Rohingya spontaneous uprising last October, followed by the drastic oppression in Arakan State that has received international condemnation and further tarnished the already nefarious country’s image on human rights violations, peace in ethnic areas has not been forthcoming and instead just the opposite is happening.
The armed conflict that has been ongoing ever since the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military regime, prior to the quasi-civilian Thein Sein government took over in 2011, continuing until today under the Aung San Suu Kyi headed civilian NLD administration. The situation worsened after the 21st Century Peace Conference (21CPC) was held, initiated by NLD, which was attended by most ethnic armies four months ago, as the Military or Tatmadaw went on with its heightened offensives in the Kachin and northern Shan State.
Last year, following the three months military onslaught on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) positions in Kachin State by the Tatmadaw, the KIA, on 20 November last year, launched counter-offensive in Muse Township, northern Shan State, with the strategy to lessen the military pressure, together with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Ko Kang and Arakan Army (AA), calling itself the Norther Alliance – Burma (NA-B).
The purpose of the NA-B counter-offensive was said to be also to project more visibility on the three Ethnic Armed Organizations’ (EAOs) – MNDAA, TNLA and AA – demand for the participation in the peace process, which the Tatmadaw has decided to exclude and the NLD is powerless to go against it.
The counter-offensive only angered the Tatmadaw more, which led to the escalation of offensives against the KIA. To date, several KIA outposts along the Burma-China border, close to its Laiza headquarters, were overran by the Tatmadaw at a high financial cost and human toll as well. Speculations are that the Tatmadaw is determined to recover its lost of face from the NA-B counter-offensive, which showed its inability to protect one of its most important economic trading zone, by overrunning KIA isolated outposts manned by just few soldiers, at an extremely high cost.
The Tatmadaw has overrun seven bases in total, including two strategic mountain outposts – Laing Paung and Gideon.
Another crucial campaign promise of constitutional amendment or change by the NLD, which it said would fulfill is still nowhere in sight and it has been even indicating achieving peace is the first priority to the amendment task, indicating it has pushed the issue to be a back-burner, angering the electorates that have voted for the NLD to usher in a speedy change constitutionally.
It might seem if one looks generally at the prevailing situation, NLD leadership or the administration is to be blamed. But a closer observation shows that it is the “systemic problem” or failure that has made the NLD so impotent to pull through all of its crucial campaign promises.
Coalition partner and coalition contract
Although people generally are inclined to called the present government as being a civilian one, headed by NLD regime, the reality is, it is a NLD-Military coalition government. And with it, normally there has to be a “coalition agreement” or “coalition contract”. But there has been none, whatsoever officially, and so one could safely say that the situation in Burma is a coalition government, without coalition contract. In other words, the most essential part or component in running the administration is missing, which is a glaring handicap to get things done in a coalition government, so to speak.
“In multiparty democracies, a coalition agreement is an agreement between the parties that form the cabinet. It codifies the most important goals and objectives of the cabinet. It is often written by the leaders of the parliamentary parties,” according to the Wikipedia.
As all know the military-drawn constitution of 2008 has allotted the Tatmadaw or Military the three most important ministries of the country, namely, the home, defense and border affairs, apart from being represented by 25% MP seats in all levels of the parliament, without having to go through the election process. Besides, any crucial constitutional amendment would need more than 75% of the parliamentary representative’s vote even to sail through the first motion, which means the constitution cannot be amended.
In a normal democratic system of governance, coalition governments are regulated to govern by a so-called “coalition contract”, that is to say how basic, controversial issues that concern the government should be implemented through commonly agreed government programmes. And even if through such previously agreed issues or challenges would need adjustment or refining, according to the situation, intensive negotiation has to be considered and conducted between coalition partners to iron out the issues in question. To put it differently, a compromised directive that should be applied for the benefit of the country and the people have to be worked out transparently.
Looking at what has been happening on the ground, especially where the peace process is concerned, the NLD and the Tatmadaw doesn’t seem to have any such consultation, much less a “coalition contract”.
But as the coalition is a “forced-coalition”, due to the military-drawn constitution and not a “voluntary-coalition” as in the real multiparty democratic countries, there is nothing much the NLD regime could do, to limit the power of the military bloc. And thus, we are pushed back again into the the arena of “constitutional crisis” or how to correct the flawed constitution, if this undemocratic way of doing things is to be addressed.
Because of the military-drawn constitution that seeks to empower the military bloc and control the political process, it could be taken as a non-democratic constitution. And trying to build a democratic society and federal system with an undemocratic constitution is next to impossible. Thus, whenever we start trying to think of formulating a federal and democratic system of governance, we will repeatedly fall back on the amendment or rewriting the military-drafted constitution.
It should be noted that the Military has repeatedly made known that it is strictly against amendment and is ready only to make minor, cosmetic changes and not the structural alteration.
Seen from this perspective, the military-drawn constitution could be termed as the main source of “systemic problem” or failure the country is facing, as it is not built to create a democratic society as it has claimed but to control the democratic and ethnic opposition and maintain its group supremacy stance or political edge in Burma’s political arena.
According to the vocabulary.com: “The adjective systemic is often used to describe diseases or disorders; a systemic illness affects your whole body or an entire system — like your digestive system. Any kind of system can experience systemic problems. For example, crime is a systemic problem in a community because it affects everyone from individuals to families, businesses, and tourism, just to name a few groups harmed by the problem.”
Thus, systemic means affecting most or all of a system rather than a small portion of the system.
In an essay “The Necessity of Social Structural Change”, Michelle Maiese wrote: “Since instituting fundamental social structural changes is extremely difficult, these structural and systemic problems are often a main cause of protracted, intractable conflicts. Indeed, any set of institutions and social relationships that deny identity, social recognition, autonomy, or preconditions for human development, creates an environment of conflict. Structural conflict is likely to result whenever patterned social relationships fail to satisfy basic needs or secure vital human interests. Any society that aspires to meet the needs of its citizens, deal with serious social problems and avoid violent conflict must address these issues.”
The two core problems of ending the civil war and constitutional amendments couldn’t be addressed as there is no agreed common programmes that would guide the coalition government’s policy implementation and enforcement, which actually should be derived from the coalition agreement. As such, the NLD-Military coalition administration has been going about resolving the problems, each in its own way, with its own individual policy, without coordination and cooperation and sometimes even contradicting each other.
The cases in points are the issues of all-inclusiveness of all EAOs and ending the civil war, apart from the big picture of all-encompassing constitutional reform, even though the NLD has not explicitly spelled out its position. Further, it seems to be weighing the pros and cons of having to endorse the Military’s position of exclusion, regarding some of the EAOs that the Military dislike; and its negotiated surrender position of the non-NCA-signatory EAOs, coupled with forcing them to sign the agreement, without consideration of any amendment from the non-signatories.
While this is not quite clear, the fact that Tatmadaw and the NLD never have common agreed position is a very clear general knowledge, the guidance and implementation of the government on pressing issues as a whole are non-existence.
Consequently, without the coalition contract, no control mechanism is available and both parties are just muddling through with the hope that one would be able to co-opt or out do the other, in the long run, at the cost of the people’s aspirations of social structural change that they have voted for the NLD to fulfill on their behalves.
Thus the inability of the government to deliver is anchored in the “systemic problem”, which in another clear interpretation could be termed as the “constitutional crisis”, as all along have been identified by the ethnic and NLD camps as the root cause of the country’s woes.
And without altering the weak points of the systemic failure or problem, that is embedded in the need for social structural change, the civil war couldn’t be stopped, national reconciliation would be just a pipe dream and democratization process would remain elusive.
To wrap up the argument, the NLD inability to deliver is because of systemic problem. And if it is to overcome the root cause has to be identified, which we have already pinpointed out as the need for constitutional amendments or rewriting it altogether. Thus, only the appropriate amendments and alteration of the military-drawn constitution will correct the systemic failure and the country would be able to move forward.
In sum, the NLD regime would be able to deliver, only if the constitution is amended that is in tune with the multi-party democratic system of governance, not the anti-democracy, half-baked hybrid quasi-civilian-military system of administration, that could only beat around the bush without coming to the root cause of the problem.
Thus gradual withdrawing of the military from the political scene, Suu Kyi advocated coaxing the military to give up its illegally held political decision-making power with knitted gloves, which would take years, are not the solution to the spiraling armed conflict and socioeconomic woes that need urgent attention.
The solution is to move from present state of chaotic to goal state of solution, And only then the undoing of systemic problem or tackling the social structural change could start.
“Bad governance is a form of injustice that must be corrected. Thus, one very broad type of social structural change is state reform and democratization. State reform must involve more than just reorganization of the administrative system or the system of resource allocation. These social structural changes should contribute to the establishment of participatory nation-building processes by fostering democratic development, nonviolent and just dispute resolution systems, the participation of the population, and rule of law,” wrote Michelle Maiese.
Her pointing out or underlining of the deep-sitting structural change is worth emphasizing. She wrote: “Constitutional reform can help political systems and the institutions within them to evolve in response to demands that reflect human needs. In the South African case, for example, systemic change came in the form of major constitutional reform and reallocations of power. The abandonment of apartheid is a prime example of major social structural change.”
Finally, taking cue from the South African experience, we should now deeply consider, whether we would like to conduct our peace process and structural change in a leisurely and non-committed way by beating around the bush, as is now the case, or take a bold, drastic and radical move by tackling the systemic problem at its roots.
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