UNION DAY: Constitutional crisis remains the core country’s problem to be resolved

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As we observe the 75th Union Day Anniversary, the civil war has been raging almost in all territories of the country we called “Burma”, which is renamed “Myanmar” by the military dictatorship in 1989.

75 Union Day held by military at Naypyidaw 12 February 2022
75 Union Day held by military at Naypyidaw 12 February 2022

The civil war was limited only to ethnic states prior to the military coup last year on February 1. But after that the majority of the Bamar population in divisions or regions rebelled against the military junta, as they cannot accept the turning back of the political clock from quasi-civilian rule to fully-fledged military dictatorship rule like in the past decades from 1962 to 2011.

In fact, the people of Burma has only tasted partial freedom under Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)-led government President Thein Sein rule from 2011 to 2016; and under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government from 2016 to 2021. But these ten years period has opened the eyes of the people, especially the younger generations, to the point that they are ready to do everything to preserve their freedom, liberty and democratization process than enduring suppression under the military rule again. In other words, the population is convinced that without uprooting the military and other various forms of dictatorship the realization of federal democratic union may not be possible.

No wonder that the whole population is up in arms, politically and militarily now for more than a year and there is no indication that this mass rebellion, dubbed “Spring Revolution” will end anytime soon, or be cowed into submission by the military junta’s suppression.

Spring Revolution at Kyaukme 2021
Spring Revolution at Kyaukme 2021

However, all these ethnic and ideological conflicts have their roots in constitutional crisis from the very beginning.

Let us go back a little into the contemporary history.

The problematic of constitutional crisis started from the stage of drafting it in 1947, prior to the independence in 1948 from the British, as can be seen in the following paragraph.

“To our country’s great cost, neither the Panglong agreements nor Aung San’s principles were incorporated into the 1947 Union of Burma Constitution. The eventual text was inappropriately drafted and implemented after the assassination of Aung San and most of his cabinet by the gang of a political rival in July that year. Although Aung San was sincere in his commitment to the formation of a union or federal system of governance, his successor U Nu was not to be the same. U Nu asked Chan Htun, a constitutional adviser, to redraft the text into a semi-unitary Union Constitution that was promulgated by the Constituent Assembly of the Interim Burmese Government in September 1947. Chan Htun and U Nu were assisted by the appointment of Tin Tut, Sir Ba U, E Maung and Kyaw Myint, all of whom were ethnic Bamar and educated in the law school of Cambridge University. The result was that the new Union of Burma, despite the prior promises and agreements with ethnic nationality leaders, did not become a genuine federal union, an ambiguity that Chan Htun himself later admitted: “Our country, though in theory federal, is in practice unitary.””

“The new union has since paid a heavy price for these constitutional failings. As political and interethnic violence continued across the country, in 1961 the Shan State government produced a resolution widely known as “The Shan Federal Proposal” that was a legally-based initiative to try and right the obvious weaknesses in the 1947 constitution. This proposal was unanimously adopted by the Shan State government on 24 January 1961 and subsequently endorsed by delegates, all of whom were non-Bamar, at the All States Conference on 16 June 1961 in Taunggyi. Following the resolution, the All States Unity Organization was formed by the conference, with Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Chin, Arakan, Shan and Mon as members.”

(Source: “Jump-starting the stalled peace process”, by Sai Wansai, published by Transnational Institute, 2017)

In 1962, the ethnic nationalities with the endorsement of the then Prime Minister U Nu was able to hold the national conference to debate the federal amendment proposal. But while the debate was in progress, the military stage a coup in March 1962, claiming to save the country from the brink of disintegration.

The military drummed in the misinformation into the people’s heads that “federalism amount to secession” and that the country would disintegrate if the federal amendment proposal is allowed to sail through the parliament.

This period lasted from 1962 until 2011 and only after the quasi-civilian system was installed, the word federalism become an acceptable words, as the ethnic nationalities and as well the NLD started to talk about it openly.

But the military and its proxy party USDP cling to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, where the military is allotted with 25 percent appointed seats in the parliament and also a free rein of defense, home and border affairs ministries.

Even then, the USDP humiliatingly lost two national elections in a row. First in 2015 and the second time in 2020 to the NLD, which it won with a landslide. Although the military allowed the NLD to run the government for the first legislature period, it didn’t allow the second time and instead stage a military coup, as it considered that the military supremacy stance would be in danger and thus also its military class further survival. Of course, the military gave its reason as NLD manipulation of the election result for its coup. But nobody believe the junta.

In short, the military isn’t really interested in genuine federal democratic union but only giving lip-service, as it openly said time and again that the 2008 military-drafted Constitution has all the features of federalism, when in fact everyone knows it is not.

The NLD during its tenure from 2016 to 2021 also didn’t do much to further federalism in the parliament and treated the ethnic political parties as underlings. It was mainly concerned only on reconciliation with the military rather than with the ethnic nationalities.

But the people’s revolution has completely changed the attitude of the Bamar population and now readily accept the ethnic nationalities version of federal union aspirations. The same goes for the military’s rival National Unity Government (NUG) and its legislative branch the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which seems to be on the same wavelength with most of the ethnic nationalities.

In sum, it should be clear that all the country’s woes stem from constitutional crisis and if we want to resolve all the problems surrounding the country, creating an equitable federal democratic union constitution among stakeholders is a must. At the same time, we should also be aware that the Bamar racial supremacy doctrine practiced by the military has not work after all these years.

On this diamond jubilee Union Day, we still have nothing to rejoice as the civil war is raging with intensity. But regardless of the people’s tremendous sufferings and sacrifices it may be a blessing in disguise. The participation of the Bamar mass to uproot the dictatorship at all cost, which never before has ever happened; the awareness of the need to establish a genuine federal democratic union to be able to live harmoniously together with all ethnic groups in the future; and real acceptance of ethnic equality and against ethnocentrism or Bamar supremacy doctrine; are invaluable gains that have been achieved in just a year time span, which we all  should be proud of.

Hopefully, with this speedy learning curve, we may even be able to genuinely rejoice the 76th Union Day next year, if we could ponder on acceptable federal constitution that could satisfy all the stakeholders and expand our work of collaboration nationwide further.

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