Commentary on “Rakhine nationalism and the rise of the Arakan Army”

Advocating federalism in ethnic-based multi-ethnic state has to be accompanied with ethnic equality.


Arakan Army leaders gather with other ethnic armed group representatives in Mai Ja Yang, a town controlled by the Kachin Independence Army on the border with China, in 2016. The AA was founded in Kachin State in 2009 with the support of the KIA. (AFP)

The present setup of 7 states and 7 divisions/regions is the first place that needs a redress. As, rightly or wrongly, the 7 regions are depicted as the areas dominantly populated by the Bamar ethnic group, which means the Bamar has 7 votes in a national decision-making process. And as such, fairness and equality in power-sharing is simply not there. Just like in the olden days after the independence from the British, from 1948 to 1962, the Bamar ethnic group has usurped the national political power in the whole union and acted as colonial master on its colonial subject.

Therefore from the 7 regions, incorporating some Bamar-dominated areas, creation of a Bamar state is needed. Others could become mixed national states, for example Rangoon region and Irrawaddy regions where ethnic groups are mixed with Karen and Mon; and Tanintharyi or Tenasserim where the Tavoyen are also mixed with Karen and Mon.

That was why there was a Federal Amendment Proposal in 1961 drawn by the endorsement of all ethnic nationalities, popularly known as Shan Proposal for it was spear headed by the Shan government and held in Taunggyi, which was tabled and discussed in the parliament in 1962. On 2 March 1962 the military launched a coup stating that the country is about to disintegrate, when in fact this was a last attempt to settle the political disagreement through peaceful political means.

The next thing is correcting the wrong concept of the Bamar political class and the Bamar-dominated military that today Burma is the continuation of the three Burmese empire, which the Global New Light of Myanmar labeled as the fourth union (it doesn’t use the word empire but the meaning is clear) built by Gen Aung San. In contrast, the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities see the country today as a new political entity established by virtue of Panglong Agreement voluntarily signed on 12 February 1947 between the Federated Shan States, Kachin and Chin Hills and the Burma Proper, which Karen, Mon and Arakan were also included during the British colonial period.

Without correcting the two said wrong views, there is little or no hope to build a successful union, as they are core obstacles that sent the ethnic nationalities into resistance, revolutionary mode in the first place.

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  1. A Roadmap to a Constitutional Democratic Federal Union/Constitutional Federal Democratic Union, based on equality, division of power and power sharing is the stated goal of many, noted in the Draft State Constitutional body of work as well. Ethnic Nationalities rights are key features and concerns and can be writ large in these fundamental principles that guide a constitution based on federal principles. It can be scripted out of the constitutional history including contemporary developments of Burma. Such matters are best predicated by a political pact but there is none as yet, as the Tatmadaw have scripted a Constitutional Disciplined Democratic State, with two spheres of constitutional government. The civilian and the military. The fact that GAD has come into the sphere of civilian governance is in essence a constitutional advance and a major one. Democratic nations do this, advance change by agreement and it does not abridge the constitution. It has not been appreciated as yet for being the mammoth change that it is. The 2008 Constitution was done by Decree not Agreement, despite the referendum. It remains an obstacle but need not be the impenetrable barrier. If all parties could work to script a constitutional democratic federal/federal democratic settlement pact, with guiding federal principles, it can be worked out.


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