Sunday, June 23, 2024

NATIONWIDE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT: Another hope for a breakthrough or replay of the 5th January meeting?

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Once again, a new ad hoc meeting between the President and the Ethnic Armed Groups (EAOs), supposed to be held on Union Day, the 12th of February, is making headlines, leaving many to speculate, if this will produce the much needed trust and understanding, leading to the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

According to the RFA report , on 26 January, Khun Okker, one of the leaders of a coalition of more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, known as Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), said on Monday that a “top-level” meeting with the government on the country’s Union Day next month could pave the way for a nationwide cease-fire agreement in March, though a peace deal would not be signed at the talks.

Khun Okker confirmed that he had received an invitation to attend a February 12 Union Day meeting from President Thein Sein and that “all ethnic leaders” were likely to attend.

Furthermore, RFA Myanmar Section reported that he is optimistic that the meeting of top level decision-makers from both sides could usher in a new working atmosphere, leading to the signing of the NCA in March, if a concrete promise to build a federal union is forthcoming.

“This is a top level meeting with decision-capable leaders and if there is something concrete at the top level, it’s much easier to work at the lower levels, so the signing could come faster,” the NCCT chairman said.

“The signing might come in March—that would be the earliest, but we hope to get a promise … to build a federal union.”

A similar meeting with some of the EAOs’ member, excluding Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF) and Ta-ang National Liberation Front (TNLA), on the heel’s of Independence Day celebration, on 5 January, was held, without any positive outcome. Many view it as a public relation stunt of the President, without substance or political accommodation to end the conflict earnestly. Some said that it was just an exchange of views, where EAOs’ members were given a few minutes time to air their grievances.

A translated article, written by Si Thu Aung Myint, a well known political analyst, in Myanmar Times, on 26 January, pinpointed the fact that President Thein Sein is not keen to amend the constitution, even though he might seem like one, given his repeated promise to build a federal union, in many of his speeches, according to the desire of the non-Burman ethnic peoples.

In a meeting, on 12 January, where 48-person meeting was conducted, the president in his opening speech said, “I always say that the constitution must be amended if the circumstances dictate it. I believe we have to amend the constitution to build a federal union that ethnic minorities have continuously demanded and continue the implementation of the democratic transition.”

“But [amending the constitution] should be done based on the outcome of political dialogue that will be held as part of the current peacemaking process, as well as in accord with legal procedures stated in the 2008 constitution,” he said.

“Trying to change the constitution without legal procedures tends to overwhelm the rule of law so we have to amend the constitution in accord with provisions in the constitution.”

The article concluded that the President has no desire to change the constitution before the 2015 elections and that he wants to conduct the elections under the unchanged 2008 constitution.

In clear text, Thein Sein demands of adherence to the 2008 Constitution, which in effect means to postpone for some times if not give up the constitutional amendment as envisioned by the ethnic and democratic camps, leading to genuine federalism way of governance. In other words, changing a little here and there according to the liking of USDP-Military regime, as a token, would be acceptable, but no drastic overhaul or rewriting, which will jeopardize the military hold on its power monopoly.

Thein Sein knows pretty well that changing the constitution according to the 2008 Constitutional procedure is almost impossible, given that the military has 25% votes, for without the military consent nothing can be amended.

No wonder, UN Special Rapporteur’s report, distributed or transmitted to the UN members, by the Secretary General, at UNGA sixty-nineth secession, on 23 September writes:

The current Constitution of Myanmar was adopted following a referendum in 2008. Its adoption was widely criticized for being fundamentally flawed, in terms of both substance and process. Current attempts at constitutional reform present opportunities to address some of these criticisms. It is notable that one of the key priorities reportedly identified from various consultation exercises on this issue was a change to the currently onerous procedure for amending the Constitution.

Article 436 provides for the manner in which proposed amendments to the Constitution are to be approved. One study has pointed out that no other constitution in the world has an amendment procedure that requires the approval of more than 75 per cent of the members of both parliamentary chambers or allows for the military to have veto power over constitutional amendments.

True, Thein Sein has opened the door of reform process and have done quite a number of positive things for the country; partial freedom of press, if not absolute press freedom, release of political prisoners, launching the peace process and so on, among others. But the main obstacle of overcoming the “constitutional crisis” remains and he seems not to be fully or wholeheartedly committed to the cause, if what he has been doing could be seen as indicators.

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it,” said Benjamin Franklin, hundreds of years ago.

Thein Sein fits into this saying for all his reputation as a good-hearted reformer goes down the drain, when he demands for adherence of the very constitution, which people are demanding to change or rewrite it so that their aspirations will be met, despite empty promises to amend it according the people’s desire.

As for Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, he has time and again made it clear that he will defend the constitution with his life and the latest interview he has given made it clear that the army will retain its 25% unelected seats within the parliament, for Burma still needs the army to guide the young democracy.
In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, on 20 January, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said the military needs to be in Parliament because the country is still a young democracy.

The current Constitution mandates a 25 percent military representation in Parliament. Military officers occupy one quarter of the elected seats in Parliament. But under the Constitution, they are appointed and not elected by the people.

Citizens are calling for that clause, known as section 436, to be amended. The military chief however is reluctant to do so at this stage of Myanmar’s transition.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said: “It’s been only about four years. We are still a young democracy. When we are moving towards a multi-party democratic system it needs to be a strong system. The military representatives in Parliament only give advice in the legislative process. They can never make decisions.”

For now, the ongoing running battles with the KIA in Kachin and Shan states, the Burma Army’s refusal to tackle, or even talk about, the bombardment of Laiza Cadet training school, where 23 of the resistance armies cadets met their death, including more than 20 wounded; and the recent rape and killing of the two female Kachin teachers in Shan State by the Burma Army, which are met with national uproar, are in no way conducive to help achieve the much wanted NCA.

Such being the case, one wonders what really could Thein Sein achieve, inviting EAOs to the party on Union Day, given his reluctant attitude to amend the constitution and outright opposition of the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to alter it in anyway. If there is to be a breakthrough, the August 2014 draft Single Text Agreement would have to be revitalized; even better, if a concrete commitment of building a federal union is emphasized to make it clear that the people’s desire will be heeded, without any reservation.

It is high time now that the President makes a bold move to end the decades old ethnic conflict and bring back peace and harmony to the country, once and for all.

The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor

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