With Thein Sein government seen as almost bending over backwards to pave way for Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy (NLD) party re-registration by changing the party registration law, which would enable it to be engaged in parliament by-elections later this year and also lend legitimacy to the regime, it must be hard pressed to come up with a clear-cut decision on whether to join or refuse to participate in Naypyidaw’s political set up.
It is said that the amendments still need to be signed into law by Thein Sein.
For now, Suu Kyi is still able to evade or duck the question of re-registration by saying that the amendments have not been in place yet and that the party meeting could only tackle the issue once the amended law is promulgated
While rejection could roll back Suu Kyi’s freedom, visibility and resumed harassment of the NLD, if Naypyidaw choose to curtail or withdraw the privilege granted so far, going along to re-register the party would mean abandoning the 2009, Shwegondaing Declaration and democratic norms.
If so, Suu Kyi is confronted with a dilemma and a scenario of “escaping between the horns”; to live up to the moral obligation and Panglong Agreement would have to be worked out, if she is to survive the recent delicate, political pressure heaping down on her.
The revision of recent party registration law, which dropped the barring of anyone convicted of a crime from joining a party and a re-wording for political parties to "respect and obey" the 2008 constitution instead of "preserve and protect”, is a progress in itself but hardly enough to satisfy the broad spectrum of stakeholders involved in Burma’s political arena.
To be able to push for a genuine reform, the 2008 Constitution, which is in effect a military supremacy one, would have to be amended.
Some major flaws of the Constitution are as follows:-
* The self-appointed, political leadership role of the military.
* The right to appoint 25% of active military representatives in Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the Region Hluttaws and the State Hluttaws by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services as Hluttaw representatives.
* The National Defense and Security Council” (NDSC), which is a “Permanent Military Institution”, could exercise executive power by way of the State President and also by itself.
* The ceiling of more than 75% approval votes to amend the constitution, by representatives of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, followed by a nation-wide referendum only with the votes of more than half of those who are eligible to vote.
Without serious discussion and amendment of these major flaws, one could not hope to push for a substantial and genuine, democratic reform process. At least, Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD would need to have an assurance that the time frame attached, step by step, fading out of military representatives within the parliament would have to be worked out, before agreeing to re-register the party and eventual political participation within the framework of the existing political system.
Naypyidaw, rightly or wrongly, believes that its longing for more international legitimacy and lifting of sanctions could be achieved through Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD political participation.
From the point of non-Burman ethnic nationalities, the amendment of the following points is crucial to end the ethnic conflict and possible political participation in nation-building process.
* Only the President is entitled to select, submit and appoint the Chief Minister of the Region or State concerned, from among the Region or State Hluttaw representatives.
* The appointment of a person as a Chief Minister of the Region or State nominated by the President shall not be refused by the Region or State Hluttaw unless it can clearly be proved that the person concerned does not meet the qualifications of the Chief Minister of the Region or State.
* The President has the right to submit again the list with a new name replacing the one who has not been approved by the Region or State Hluttaw for the appointment of the Chief Minister.
* The seven Regions, previously known as Divisions and the seven States are designated as seven States are equal in status.
As could be seen, the 2008 Constitution could not fulfil the non-Burman ethnic nationalities’ rights of self-determination for it has a rigid centralisation system, rather than the required decentralisation. It should be noted here that the non-Burman ethnic nationalities have joined the Union of Burma on a voluntary basis, based on the promise of General Aung San that a federal system of government would be established, following the independence from the British. But after the assassination of Aung San, in 19 July 1947, the Burman political class has chosen to take over the mantle of the British colonial master, instead of the agreed equal partnership agreement, signed in Panglong the same year. For a little more than a decade, a semblance of federal system, with unitary overtone, was practiced until the military stage a coup in 1962. Since then, the Burman has become a full blown aggressor overnight, instead of being a partner. The reason for the coup was to safe guard the union from disintegration for the non-Burman ethnic nationalities had called for an equitable and fair union with their “federal proposal” to amend the 1948 Constitution.
It should also be noted that the non-Burman ethnic groups had called for a genuine federalism, during the National Convention to draft the 2008 Constitution, but was pushed aside and simply ignored.
Furthermore, the newly created seven Regions, which was known previously as Ministerial Burma or Burma Proper, is in fact a Burman state and splitting it into seven is a deliberate move by the military to counter and limit the ethnic states political clout vis-à-vis the Burman state.
As it is, the non-Burman ethnic states do not have the right to develop its own constitution within the framework of the Union Constitution of Burma, or have the power to elect its Chief Minister. In addition, the natural resources could only be exploited mainly by the Union government and not by the states themselves.
And as such, the ethnic conflict, going on for decades will definitely continue, until a compromise to address the grievances and injustice of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities could be found.
But while the reconciliation overtures towards Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD seem to be in progress, the Naypyidaw’s handling of ethnic armed groups is rather a mixture of confrontation and peaceful-coexistence.
According to the news, the Burma Army’s war against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is in full swing, while the offensive on the Shan State Army North (SSA-N) has ceased since September, but resumed again according to the 1 November report of Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). The clash was said to have taken place on 28 October, in a forest in Mong Nawng area, southern Shan State.
The peace talk’s overtures with the Karen National Union (KNU), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Shan State Army South (SSA-S) have also been made by the Thein Sein government.
The ceasefire agreements with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) have also been signed almost two months ago.
The normal logical approach of a government willing to instil peace initiative would create a peaceful atmosphere by calling for a nation-wide ceasefire, instead of heightening the offensive. But news coming out from Kachin sources indicates that just the opposite is happening.
On 31 December, the Kachin News Group (KNG) reported that the unidentified chemical weapon has been in use in three war zones against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The areas under attack are along the Myitkyina-Manmaw (Bhamo) Road in Waingmaw Township, Christian Prayer Hill and Lung Zep Kawng in Ga Ra Yang village, and Shwe Nyaung Pyin village, said KIA soldiers, who have been attacked by the poisonous gas.
It was said to produce a dark smoke, causing extreme dizziness, difficulty to breathe, thirstiness and vomiting for hours.
Given such a backdrop, Thein Sein would need to reassess his priority setting of the issues that need immediately attention, coupled with decisive implementation and those that need to be handled in a medium and longer range time frame.
The release of all the political prisoners and ceasefire or peace initiative could be tackled immediately, without fear or any costly investment. The call for comprehensive peace talks could be conducted within a medium time slot, while poverty reduction, economic improvement and so on could fall into a long term time frame.
When the Labour Minister Aung Gyi said 'We will not stop, and also not jump with both legs,’ regarding criticism of the meagre release of political prisoners a few weeks ago, he was missing the point. The wholesale release of the political prisoners won’t cost the regime a penny and would even reap praise and sympathy. But holding the political prisoners as a bargaining chips tend to erode the confidence and good will of the regime, plus the disappointment of those longing for a real irreversible reform.
The same goes for the continued offensive on the KIA and to a lesser extent on the KNU. Again, it won’t cost the regime anything to call for a nation-wide ceasefire and even would polish its image and international standing.
The Burma Army’s offensive in Kachin, Shan and Karen states have already cost some hundreds, if not thousands, of Burmese soldiers and ethnic resistance troopers’ lives and uncountable collateral damage inflicted upon the civilian population. In short, the cost of human lives and material loss are tremendously high, which makes the effort of Thein Sein government’s poverty reduction initiative looks meaningless and hollow.
The one speculation left, on why such a natural or logical approach to call for a nation-wide ceasefire has been shunned, could be that Thein Sein is not in total control, and thus could not rein in the military in the field. If this is so, the power struggle within the government would have to be settled first, before an all-embracing political settlement could be worked out. It could also be that Thein Sein is playing the good cop, while the military is taking the role of a bad cop, while hood-winking all the stakeholders, posturing as a reformist, when in fact he is representing a handful of military top brass, both retired and active.
No one knows for sure. .
The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor
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