The beating around the bush is so intense that many almost lost track of the big picture or the main goal-setting of a federal union and its formulation that all could live with. But thanks to Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center (ENAC) which outlined its eleven-theme suggestion, including health, education, land rights, natural resources, agriculture, internally displaced persons, humanitarian law, taxation, trading and investment, and forestry and environment, but excluding political and security issues, that should be taken into account in its recently made public booklet on 12 December 2017, at Yangon’s Green Hill Hotel.
The need to ponder and made known the positions of the different stakeholders has been reminded again, when Zo Tum Hmung, director of ENAC, said: “You cannot just say we will give you a federal system, because that is very general.”
The ethnic leaders were of the opinion that the time has come for the government and the military to listen to the voices of the ethnic people if they wanted to solve the political conflicts in the country.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) secretary general and member of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), who works closely with the ENAC during the occasion said: “This disease has spread to the mainland now. It is time to take medicine to treat this ailment (meaning the central government should listen to the ethnic groups).”
Earlier, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) on 11 December 2017 also issued a statement that after 17 months of negotiation with the government’s Peace Council (PC), the prospect of agreement on its eight-point Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) amendment proposal still could not be reached, which blocks its participation in the peace process. Reportedly, the main terminological obstacle is said to be the usage of “federal democratic union” as preferred by the UNFC and “a union based on the principles of democracy and federalism”, adopted by the government, among other disagreement.
And as such, knowing and looking closely at the positions of different stakeholders are crucial to adjust a workable and acceptable federal union system of governance.
Type of federalism and stakeholders
The Tatmadaw during the first Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong (UPC-21CP), popularly dubbed as 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government on 31 August – 4 September 2016, made known that it considered the military-drafted 2008 constitution has all the necessary features to be turned into a federal union system of governance.
Its position papers delivered during the conference included security and taxation to be considered, among other headings.
Its representative argued that the bicameral House of Nationalities and House of Representatives, plus 14 States and Regions parliaments are the hallmark of federalism, which is embedded in its self-drawn constitution. Furthermore, it pointed out that the separation, check and balance of legislative, executive and judicial powers are conducive to the formation of a federal union.
It is convinced that the important point in relation to its foreseeable federalism system of governance is the status quo, maintenance of its armed forces and putting more muscles in the organization to achieve its goal of a “standard army”.
It further advocated the implementation of demobilization and reintegration (DDR), which is the dismemberment of the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) or surrender, rather than the formation of a federal army through security sector reform (SSR), as preferred by the EAOs.
Likewise, it also projected the central role of the union government on taxation, resources management and economy as a whole, and not in a give-and-take consultative manner.
Thus it is, in fact, a unitary system, perhaps with a minimum political power devolution, with some federalism trappings. Moreover, the security sector reform is aimed to make use in the light of maintaining status quo and physical development of the military muscles and not in anyway a federal army that the EAOs are proposing.
The NLD has not committed itself to any form of federalism concretely, except generally mentioning the need of political power division between the federal and states.
Dr Tin Myo Win, top NLD peace negotiator, during the first 21CPC outlined that his party is keen to achieve various power-sharing levels in the formulation of a federal union.
His statement mentioned the confederation and federal systems of governance, calling the former “coming together” and the latter, “holding together”. Accordingly, he is for the system with asymmetrical federalism, somewhat like India, with federal and states invested with self-rule and shared-rule for all. But he seems to be advocating for the more empowerment of the federal-level authority rather than the states.
Other than that he pointed out the needs for individual and group rights, but warned of one ethnic group dominating the other.
He talked about power-sharing and the check and balance being the two facets of the same coin and cannot be separated, in addition to the need of decision-making power devolution in practical administration of the states, implying a strong federal control shedding some powers to the states. He envisioned a federal union with check and balance of the administration, legislative and judicial branches.
It should be noted that the NLD didn’t spell out anything concretely and just urged that all should help build a democratic federal union.
The EAOs and EPPs
The ethnic nationalities – EAOs and the Ethnic Political Parties (EPPs) – have rallied around the Panglong Agreement of 1947 and have drawn heavily on The Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Union of Burma (Second Draft) drawn by Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee, which was adopted on 12 February 2008 by the then ethnic armed groups’ alliance. This, in turn, has been taken over by the UNFC and the UNA as their guidelines. UNFC was said to add up some clauses to it, but the details were not made known for public consumption.
It should be noted that the 2008 federal constitution made use of the historical facts from 1947 Union of Burma Constitution and 1961 ethnic nationalities’ Federal Proposal to amend the 1947 Constitution.
Surprisingly enough, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which hitherto has been staying out of the peace process joined the endorsement of Panglong Agreement-based rights of self-determination and federal union demand proposal two years back and officially at the first 21CPC in 2016. Its political position proposal started out as an individual group and later with minor innovation as an alliance under the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC). However, the alliance outlook resembles more of a confederacy than a federation.
The fifth EAOs Plenary Meeting in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin Independence Organization’s (KIO) controlled town near Chinese border, took place from 26 to 30 July 2016.
The meeting was attended by 17 EAOs, minus the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K), making it the most comprehensive and exclusive meeting to determine the common position of the EAOs. Also attending were representatives from two umbrella, alliance organizations of ethnic nationalities political parties; United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and National Brotherhood Federation (NBF), including the Women League of Burma (WLB), UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar and Sun Guoxiang, Special Envoy of Asian Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
The meeting agreed on the 8 point principles in drafting a federal union constitution, which included sovereignty, equality, rights of self-determination, genuine federalism, protecting the rights of minorities, democratic rights, universal human rights and gender equality, and multi-party system-based secular form of governance.
The most outstanding point of discussion in federal form of governance was the alteration proposal of “national” state and “nationalities” state formation, rather than just accepting and going along with the 14 States and Regions configuration under the present military-drafted constitution. Hypothetically, for example, a Bamar State could be carved out from Mandalay, Magway and Bago Regions, while Yangon (Rangoon), Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), Tanintharyi (Tenasserim) and Sagaing Regions could become nationalities states, for they are populated with various other ethnic groups, besides Bamar ethnic.
Regarding the security, the ethnic bloc is keen to imply SSR and federal army formation, rather than the Tatmadaw preferred DDR and disintegration of its armed forces, which should be under the defense ministry and subordinated to the civilian government, emphasizing that the country’s president would be the Commander-in-Chief of the military.
Outlook and perspective
To sum up, while all important stakeholders are not in dispute of the necessity to form a federal union; political power-sharing; check-and-balance of the three institutions of legislative, executive and judicial; and secular state; quite a number of disagreement, including hitherto not openly spoken and debated issues are sure to pop up in the near future for further deliberations. They are:
Looking at the Military, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the NLD statements, one could assume that all are for unitary system of government, with minimum to maximum devolution of power from the central government to the states. In other words, a unitary state with federal trappings.
Furthermore, they are for territorial-based federalism, which apparently means doing away with the aspirations of ethnic-based federal union. This in turn sought to nullify the 1947 Panglong Agreement that is aimed at an ethnically based federal union envisioned by the founding forefathers of the country in post-colonial period.
As for the security issue, the Military is for the maintenance of status quo, one army that is dominated by the Bamar ethnic group and sought to implement the DDR, which is the dissolving all the ethnic armies, with perhaps integration of some ethnic troopers under the Military’s militia or Border Guard Force (BFG) scheme.
On the ethnic nationalities’ part as a whole, it is determined to stick to the solution of Panglong Agreement and an ethnic-based federal form of union, including equality, democracy and rights of self-determination.
Regarding security issue it is keen to implement SSR, with necessary DDR undertakings only after the political settlement.
Given such fundamental differences between the important stakeholders, the peace negotiation process and political settlement won’t be an easy task. But there is hardly any other way than to adjust the differences through political means, as decades of warfare hasn’t brought any positive result but sufferings, under-development and poverty only to all the people, one way or the other.
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2016 Shan Herald Agency for News