Following Zaw Htay, the director general of the State Counselor’s Office, statement that a consensus with ethnic delegations within the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) has been reached, in which secession rights of the ethnic groups would be curtailed, needs more in-depth discussion. In other words, the federal constitution for the federal and state levels would have no secession clause included, like the Union of Burma constitution in 1947, is not a pressing issue as promoted by the government and, in fact, could even be said as a badly timed pitch given the convoluted political atmosphere prevailing at the moment.
“Due to our [Burma’s] geopolitical status, it is strategically imperative that we do not break into pieces,” said Zaw Htay. “We reached a consensus with ethnic delegations that they will be granted the right to draft their own constitutions, provided unity is maintained,” according to the DVB report of May 15.
What is exactly behind all this political jockeying and maneuvering?
Let us have a closer look.
The Working Committee for Political Discussions produced a paper on May 9, 2017, signed by Khin Zaw Oo from the government part and Dr. Lian Hmong Sakhong representing the 8 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), in which secession issue is mentioned as below:
According to the Global New Light of Myanmat report on March 9, 2017, the Working Committee for Political Discussions was led by U Khin Zaw Oo, Dr. Lian Hmong Sakhong and Sai Kyaw Nyunt and discussed on the committee’s procedures and other various other topics on securing a strong foundation for a federal system.
Remarkably, the analysis paper of May 9 is only signed by the government and EAOs and the political parties’ representative, Sai Kyaw Nyunt was not included. UPDJC is actually represented equally by the government (including Military and Parliament); the EAOs; and the political parties with equal representatives of 16 each. Thus, it would mean the political parties bloc within the UPDJC has no voice in its present decision-making.
Regarding this government and Military position on secession the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) made a massive rebuttal, following the statements from government quarters and as well the UPDJC.
According to the Shan Herald Agency for News report of May 17, Sai Leik, spokesperson of the SNLD said: “ The Union Peace Conference (UPC), more popularly known as 21st Century Panglong Conference as dubbed by the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, is going on according to its procedure. The State Counselor has personally said that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) must not influence (or envelope) the Panglong Agreement (of 1947) and we also understood as such and has accepted it. But we heard that the Tatmadaw (Military), during the UPDJC meeting that ended on May 12 was said to have demanded that endorsement on prohibition of secession from the union would be included. If it is really going to be done that way, it is the breaching of union (Panglong Agreement) promises. In a way, it could be taken as breaking the (promises of) union treaty.”
“If the government would like the ethnic states to promise not to secede, it would also need to prove, do things and promise, spelling out on how it would undertake (on achieving genuine federalism), in front of the international community,” he said.
Furthermore, he explicitly made a point by saying: “All has already understood that this secession clause is included (in the treaty), so that the government side won’t deviate from the path of genuine federal union.”
“The inclusion of secession clause in 1947 Union of Burma constitution is a control mechanism of `checks and balances´ between the union and states and has been made by the country’s founding forefathers,” added Sai Leik.
Whatever the case, it will be well advised for the government and the Military to refrain from pushing this secession issue to the forefront, especially when trust between the ethnic nationalities and Bamar political elites, including the Military, is at its lowest ebb. As this kind of move would only reinforce the ethnic distrust, which they have been all along suspecting of the Bamar wanting to maintain its political supremacy stance like a colonial master on his colonial possession, but not out of brotherly love that it has propagated but, in fact, doing just the opposite, proven by years of forced union through human rights violations, oppression and occupation of the ethnic states with sheer military might.
Thus, trust-building and stimulation to increase trust should be the place to start with and not coercive, hand-wringing signature of the ethnic nationalities to keep the so-called union together.
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