[dropcap color=”#dd3333″]A[/dropcap]s if to demonstrate that the de facto government leader and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is now ready to give more power to the newly elected President Win Myint than the former President Htin Kyaw, quotes from speeches of the President and State Counselor began to appear in government own newspapers side-by-side.
One such publication appears on May 6, in The Global New Light of Myanmar.
The excerpt of President Win Myint at the ceremony to take oath of office at Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on 30th March 2018 writes: “We have much to carry on fulfilling the hopes and needs of the people of the country. We must press on until our citizens have their dignity raised and our country can retain its former glory on the global stage.”
The State Counselor’s excerpt speech delivered on the 2nd Anniversary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Government on 1st April 2018 writes: “Collective strength is vital to build peace and stability which we need. We need to have mutual understanding to bring to an end the armed conflicts which have existed for many years among the ethnic nationalities. We can made this foundation strong with our collective strength.”
However, it is totally a different question, if these two well-meaning statements would be able to pave way for a more concrete, pragmatic actions and usher the country into reconciliation and achievement of peace.
Restoration of citizens’ dignity and country’s glory
First, the realization of President Win Myint’s goal projection needs two crucial undertakings. One is to limit the damage done and the other, to build public awareness, also including the stakeholders participating in the political arena.
Limiting the damage could only be managed if the concerned parties are convinced that what they are doing is damaging the interest of the country. And this is none other than the ongoing ethnic armed conflict; communal and religious strife. In a general term, the wars in ethnic states are ethnic armed conflict and the one in Rakhine State is communal and religious conflict, at least where the Rohingya issue is concerned. But the conflict between the Military or Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army (AA) is considered an ethnic conflict even though it is occurring within the same state.
Having said that, the ongoing wars in Kachin, Shan, Chin and Arakan States, and now also threatening to spread into the Karen State due to the Tatmadaw’s encroachment into the Karen National Union (KNU) controlled territories, are ethnic conflicts that the stakeholders, particularly the Tatmadaw, doesn’t see clearly as damages being done to the country as a whole. Perhaps, the Tatmadaw is bent on military victory to subdue the ethnic resistance forces with the acquirement of new weaponry with its massive 400,000 troopers. But decades of warfare have shown that neither side could win and nobody knows what has propelled the Tatmadaw to be on its all military offensive mode, instead of striving for peace negotiation and political settlement.
Indications are that the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) are keen for a political settlement within the mold of an acceptable federal union setup, whereas the Tatmadaw seems to be driving for negotiated surrender or outright surrender of the EAOs seen from its heightened military onslaught in the ethnic states.
Thus, it could be said that the ethnic conflict war is still not yet seen as a damage that has to be contained and limited, if the country is to find peace and development, but a competition to be decided by military solution.
However, regarding the communal and religious conflict where Rohingya issue is concerned, the NLD government is evolving around, from the previous denial posture, as could be seen by the UNSC recent visit to the country and recognition of the international human rights concern; and that there is no other way than to cooperate with the UN, if Myanmar wants to become mainstream again and earns the respect of international community.
The second crucial point is to build awareness among the stakeholders that internal armed conflict has to be stopped by hook or by crook through negotiation and that a third party neutral international mediator and facilitator team accepted by all parties is needed to end the conflict. The self-help peace negotiation process, which has been employed since 2011 brought the country nowhere but more heightened conflict.
And in addition, public awareness on universal human rights values, anti-racism and anti-ethnocentrism notions should be promoted, so that ethnic and religious harmony could be restored within the country and do away with racial hatred indoctrination that has become the populist trend of the country.
Collective strength to build peace
Now let us look at the State Counselor’s collective strength vitality to build peace and stability statement.
Principally, the source of collective strength could only be drawn from the elements within the Tatmadaw, EAOs, political parties and CSOs stakeholders. And generally, of the groups mentioned the Tatmadaw is the only group, which projects itself differently from the others and is convinced to be the sole protector, guardian and referee of the country in the ongoing democratization process. It is reluctant to cooperate with the others but more inclined to push forward its own agendas. And thus, it is hard to become a party to the State Counselor’s collective strength aspirations.
The NLD might now be coaxing the Tatmadaw to become reasonable on one hand and creating a peaceful atmosphere conducive to the peace process on the other. But the available indications are that the NLD either failed to convince the Tatmadaw to stop the fighting in ethnic states or left it alone to conduct its own policy in dealing with the EAOs, including waging wars, without interruption.
And now regarding the creation of a conducive peaceful atmosphere with the other remaining stakeholders, Suu Kyi has never made clear who are its allies are in trying to gather the “collective strength”. Her vague generalization of directing it at “the people” isn’t doing any good as stakeholders are at lost to determine on whether they are being counted as her allies or not.
Concerning this Sai Nyunt Lwin, Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) told a media outlet: “Their (the NLD) definition needs to be correct, and it is important to know with whom she will build strength; whether she wants to work collectively with the ethnic groups to serve the Union, or to build a good relationship with the Tatmadaw to wipe out the EAOs.”
He further stressed: “She said before that it’s time to change, and we thought the political system was going to change, but in reality, they changed themselves. Therefore the right definition is the key.”
In sum, if the NLD is really interested to realize its dual goal-setting of restoration of the country’s reputation and achievement of peace, it will have to undertake drastic actions than going along with business as usual, status quo setting.
In a nutshell, the first choice for the NLD would be to employ the simple majority voting approach in the parliament by putting forward a bill proposing a referendum on drafting a new constitution. The bill could be passed easily with the NLD majority vote and the military would not have the numbers to block it.
The second approach would be to try and reach understanding with the Tatmadaw that zero-sum game, military solution approach is not applicable and that its gradual withdrawal from the political scene is the only way forward, as the hybrid civilian-military system is hindering democratization and reconciliation process.
The third approach of which applying decentralization in Schedule 2 (states/regions), 2008 Constitution to achieve peace and stability in the country as foundational steps towards a federal system is also not tenable, for without a clear power-sharing structure agreement from the outset between the federal government and states/regions, it will be just like trying to put the cart before the horse. Moreover, the proposition that the decentralization could be done, which will drag on for years and generations only concentrating in Schedule 2 area with or with the ethnic nationalities’ blessing, isn’t a well thought out strategy and won’t go down well with the ethnic stakeholders. Besides, federalism is seen from a wider context to resolve the most pressing issues of ethnic identity and power-sharing within the mold of a federal union by the ethnic nationalities.
Thus, for the country to restore its past glory and achieve peace, hard decisions have to be taken and not mere doling out buzzwords which are not accompanied by radical actions.