Federal system to take shape by 2019, presidential spokesperson says

Ethnic autonomy and the long-sought federal Union of Myanmar is not so far off, at least according to the presidential spokesperson, who outlined an optimistic timeline at the second Union Peace Conference this past weekend.

U Zaw Htay, a former military officer and deputy director of the President’s Office, told reporters at the peace talks that by 2019, the federal Union will start to take shape.

“The real aim of our government’s peace policy is to install the democratic federal [system] demanded by the ethnic people,” he said. “Further discussions will be held in 2017 by this government. We hope the concept will evolve from a basic principle to more detailed principles by 2018. The federal [system] we are implementing will be shaped in 2019. The federal [system] will have [state] constitutions and self-determination, which have been continuously demanded by the ethnic people.”

The president’s spokesperson cautioned however that the federal Union could only be achieved if ethnic groups consent to a non-secession clause.

The topic of secession proved contentious at the Nay Pyi Taw discussions, with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing lashing out at ethnic armed organizations in his opening speech, saying some of their demands extend far beyond the right to self-determination and could threaten to undermine the Union.

The six-day 21st-Century Panglong Conference ended on May 29 with a closing ceremony, but with no substantial agreements or progress made on the issue of federalism.

Many ethnic armed groups continue to point to the military drafted 2008 constitution as the major stumbling bloc requiring amendment, but the Tatmadaw has been steadfast in insisting all parties adhere to it.

“If one looks at the points agreed to in the NCA [the nationwide ceasefire agreement], it states that we will establish a Union based on [the principles of] democracy and federalism, which will guarantee equality and the right to self-determination. The state constitution and the Union constitution need to be compatible in order to make this happen,” said U Tun Zaw, secretary of ethnic umbrella organization, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). “Yet no matter how the state or region constitutions are drafted, there’s no way for these constitutions to guarantee federalism with the 2008 constitution still in place.”

The UNFC did not attend to the second round of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference, but some of the member organizations attended as observers.

Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by Laignee Barron