[dropcap color=”#1e73be”]T[/dropcap]he eyes are on the newly elected President Win Myint, who came into the office due to the untimely resignation of Htin Kyaw, the ex-President last month.
While the ex-President Htin Kyaw’s sudden resignation was explained by his wife as an earlier planned procedure, the timing didn’t seem to suggest as being a well thought out plan. Critics have pointed out that the move happened while the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi was still away in Australia and the accumulated dissatisfaction of the ex-President treating him as unimportant figure by the Military or Tatmadaw and the home ministry were the real reasons for Htin Kyaw’s resignation.
Whatever the case, the election of the new President is seen as a push for drastic change to fulfill the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) campaign promises of 2015 election, in preparation for the upcoming, 2020 nationwide election.
Suu Kyi further compliment Win Myint’s election as: “A good legacy of the first generation was to give birth to the emergence of younger generation leaders.”
In an address to the nation to mark the second anniversary of the NLD-led administration, State Counselor said on April 2 said that her government keeps “in high regard the need for collective strength” to overcome the challenges Myanmar faces internally and internationally. But more importantly she referred to President Win Myint’s inaugural speech and urged the people to listen and read it if they haven’t done so.
President Win Myint in his inauguration speech on March 30 said: “(I hereby) promised deeply, seriously and with determination to try and carry out the people’s desired changes together with the people, so that they could be seen with their own eyes.”
His speech mentioned three basic outlines or tasks: the rule of law and acceleration of the people’s socio-economic development; national reconciliation and internal peace; and constitutional amendment to build foundation for the establishment of democratic federal union; which he vowed to tackle to the best of his knowledge and ability.
He also mentioned the importance and respect of media which is the ears and eyes of the public, building public awareness to be in tune with the democratic norms, the need to tackle corruption, restructuring of the ministries to be more effective, and the handling narcotics problems.
Of the three basic outlines, achieving peace and amendment of the constitution drafted by the Military would be the hardest nuts to crack, as the political competition will be most profoundly highlighted stemming from these two issues, which will determine the fate of the country.
Basic difference regarding the peace negotiation process is the notion of all-inclusiveness, which means the participation of all Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). The military wants to exclude the three members Northern Alliance – Burma (NA-B), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), while the NLD originally was keen to include every group in the peace process, its position now is less clearer, perhaps due to the Tatmadaw’s unyielding hard-line position to exclude the said three EAOs. And not to upset the civilian-military administrative balance, the NLD has become less vocal.
And as if to sabotage the peace process, the military continues to wage wars in Shan, Kachin and lately in Karen States.
It should also be noted that the ex-Military officials-led Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)-installed President Thein Sein’s unilateral ceasefire call in Kachin State, following the parliamentary approval announced in January 2013, was not adhered by the Tatmadaw, as it was determined to keep the war flames on.
Armed clashes go on and off in Shan and Kachin States with thousands of Tatmadaw troops poised against the EAOs. Lately, the war has even expanded to Chin State, where the Tatmadaw opened up a new front to dislodge the AA in Paletwa area adjacent to the Arakan State of Buditaung area.
And most recently, the Tatmadaw started to encroach in Karen National Union (KNU) area of Brigade 5, which erupted into open armed conflict, even though the KNU is a signatory of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and most cooperative EAO within the signatory EAOs.
Meanwhile, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) unable to tolerate the Tatmadaw’s offensives has declared to wage guerrilla warfare, starting April 10, in Hukawng Valley, Tanai Township, including gold and amber mining areas of Shaduzup, Nam Byu, Nam Kawn, Tungmani, Dagum and Daba, according to the KIA announcement of April 5 to retake back the areas, rich in gold and amber, from the Tatmadaw.
The pretext given by the Tatmadaw’s clearance operations or military offensives is upholding and protecting national unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity and the sole ownership of the natural resources. But these are politically loaded issues, which the EAOs’ grievances and are trying to address and resist the monopolization of political powers vested in Bamar-dominated successive Military governments to the recent quasi-civilian, hybrid, NLD-Military regime.
For the EAOs and the ethnic nationalities at large, their aspirations are to achieve shared-sovereignty instead of sole sovereignty ownership by the Bamar-dominated government; natural resources-sharing in place of sole central government ownership of the natural resources. And of course, the rights of self-determination, equality and democracy within the mold of an acceptable federal union agreement.
Outwardly, the constitutional amendment is seen within the context of federalism versus military totalitarianism. But in reality it is the Bamar-dominated NLD party angling to chip away the Military’s political advantages made possible by the Military-drafted, 2008 Constitution, not much to do with achieving a federal form of government.
It should be noted that the Military and as well the NLD might vary on the level of political power devolution from minimum to maximum in democratization process, but the political system desired by both is unmistakably unitary and not federalism.
While the military has already spelled out that it will protect the 2008 Constitution and adhere to it, which has a semblance of federal trapping but nevertheless a unitary system, the NLD has never openly made known in details its version of federalism outlook and only takes up position that it would adhere to the outcomes of 21st Century Panglong Conference.
But still, the NLD has shown in many instances in its two years in power that it is for strong central control of Union and only ready to delegate inferior, subordinate-like power to the State and Region governments.
The NLD on its part has tried to amend the 2008 Constitution when it came into power, particularly the Article 436 and 59 (f), but shattered, due to the 75% vote ceiling that has to be overcome within the parliament, as the Tatmadaw is allotted with 25% appointed MP’s seat and made an effective use to block the proposal.
Article 436 is directly concerned with the voting threshold of 75% that the NLD seeks to lower it and Article 59(f) is to do away with the ruling that those who have foreign spouse or siblings cannot become president.
Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing’s strategy
As the Military bloc made way for the NLD majority government following its landslide election victory at the end of 2015 and ushered into power in March 2016, the Tatmadaw has to refine its strategy to be able to maintain its supremacy position in Myanmar’s political landscape.
It seems to have employed various approaches to continue maintaining its political edge which includes blocking the constitutional amendments, manipulation and delaying the ongoing peace process, keeping the war flames on, and stoking Islamophobia.
The logic behind it is that blocking the constitutional amendment within the parliament by his Tatmadaw representative would ensure the Tatmadaw’s political edge of maintaining the three ministries of home, defense and border affairs, plus 25% appointed MPs in the parliament; delaying the peace process and keeping the war flames on will project the importance and influential roles of the Tatmadaw; and finally, stoking Islamophobia populist policy will bring in more votes for the Military bloc, which is represented by the USDP, made up of former Tatmadaw’s officials.
Given such circumstances, the future political landscape in the aftermath of 2020 election is hard to predict on how it would pan out.
The likely scenarios or political configuration that could come out in the aftermath of 2020 would be: the similar situation of 2016 NLD majority governmental setup; the NLD-ethnic political parties coalition government; the USDP-Tatmadaw coalition government; and the USDP-Tatmadaw-ethnic political parties coalition government, just to name a few setup possibilities.
But the NLD and the Military bloc would have to spell out their political platform much clearer in preparation for the upcoming 2020 election, even though there might be a necessity to stick together for the time being to weather the international condemnation regarding the Rohingya exodus, propelled by the Tatmadaw’s excessive area clearance military operations that sent some 700,000 refugees across the border into Bangladesh.
The NLD has now heightened its election campaign through the newly elected President’s inauguration speech and whether the Military bloc will do like wise soon enough is still an open question, at least for now.