Wednesday, February 1, 2023

EMPOWERING JUNTA’S OPPOSITION CAMP: Political unity and solidarity of ethnic-democratic forces key to successful revolution

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As the second anniversary of military coup on February 1 approaches, the military junta or State Administration Council (SAC) is determined to hold national election in the second half of the year in the hope of achieving legitimacy, while the ethnic-democratic forces may be pondering on how to heighten the alliance collaboration to a new level, in order to be more effective.

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In this respect a virtual discussion held recently by Stimson Center participated by Christina Fink and Ye Myo Hain is worth mentioning, particularly because the proposition dwells on how to improve the overall undertaking of the ethnic-democratic forces capability and solidarity in the sense of better coordination and cooperation.

Christina Fink, an analyst of Myanmar issues, in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the current anti-revolutionary movement said that the National Unity Government (NUG) is more successful than the revolutionary forces of the past in raising funds for the war victims. The revolutionary forces also can now undertake whatever they want without relying on external support.

Although the anti-dictatorship armed movement only took place in non-Bamar ethnic states in the past, this time around it has spread to the majority Bamar areas, and the military council is losing control one region after another, which is becoming widespread.

Emergence of PDF forces in Burma
Emergence of PDF forces in Burma.

Christina Fink also analyzed the challenges facing the revolutionary forces at the moment, saying: “One challenge is that the military council may increase airstrikes. Twenty years ago, they didn’t have the ability to do this. They have bought fighter jets from Russia and China. They also received military training. At the moment, when the military council’s ground forces are quite weak, they use more airstrikes. In addition, they know that there is almost no support for them among the people, so morale is also declining. But the army is making the best use of the air force’s capabilities. One of the things they are doing is launching airstrikes on the headquarters of the ethnic armed groups that provide military training to the People’s Defense Force (PDF) troops. In this way, they are trying to separate Bamar revolutionary groups from ethnic groups. Another challenge is that there is some authoritarianism among both civilian and ethnic leaders, including the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Thus, it is very difficult to organize all groups under one leadership. Therefore, it would be more practical for all revolutionary groups to stand as a network connected to each other rather than as a single group. From here, we can gradually improve cooperation.”

Christina Fink also considered it is important for the Bamar leaders to understand the wishes of the ethnic groups in order to build trust with the ethnic leaders.

“The peace process started in 2010, but the NLD was not allowed to participate. During the period when the NLD came to power, their performance was not good. They do not understand the needs of the ethnic groups and the relationship between ethnic groups. It is also because the NLD party did not choose the person whom the ethnic parties wanted to appoint as the state chief minister. Only ethnic members from the NLD party are appointed to these position, so it remains under the control of the NLD. So in the ethnic states, especially in Rakhine and Shan states, trust is destroyed. Therefore, in order to build trust with the ethnic groups both militarily and politically, as the forces active in the cause of democracy, we need to overcome not only past actions, but also the mistrust caused by recent actions,” she said.

As Scott Marcial, the former US ambassador to Myanmar, said in an interview, currently, the revolutionary forces need to develop a road map, Christina Fink said. Now, there is a need for a road map that is accepted by all, to ensure that the various armed resistance groups’ activities are coordinated and that they are moving toward the same goal of becoming a stable and peaceful country in the future, experts say.

Political analyst on Myanmar Ye Myo Hein of Woodrow Wilson Center suggested that only through trust-building, cooperation and coordination can the current political crisis be overcome, and building it on step by step sequencing.

“Right now, it is important to have cooperation between the revolutionary forces. According to the history of Myanmar, It is unrealistic to expect perfect unity. Therefore, as revolutionary forces, we must build a plan step by step.”

Ye Myo Hein also emphasized that the NUG in cooperation with the ethnic armed forces were able to set up five military regions across Myanmar; created and established Central Command and Coordination Committees (C3C), Joint Command and Coordination (J2C) and Alliance Relation Committee, in order to improve the relationship between the newly established PDF groups and the existing ethnic armed groups.

Current military situation in a nutshell

The current military situation can be summed up under four categories, according to analyst Ko Oo in his report in The Irrawaddy on January 9.

According to him, from around 150,000 troops of ethnic armed organizations (EAO) countrywide, the first group consisting 31 percent of them involving the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Karen National Union (KNU), the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Chin National Front (CNF) and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) are fully cooperating with the Spring Revolution or working with the NUG.

Armed conflicts and territory contestation areas
Armed conflicts and territory contestation areas.

Another 31 percent, the second group consisting of the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Kokang, have been only partially been involved in the Spring Revolution, but they effectively checkmate or contain the junta troops.

Another 31 percent, the third group consisting of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) or Mongla, are not currently involved in the Spring Revolution. But they are not engaged in active fighting with the regime, and it also appears that they are not helping the resistance forces either.

The fourth group, consisting of the RCSS, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC), the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), and the Lahu Democratic Union, which accounts for 7 percent of the total troops, are unlikely to join the ethnic-democratic forces in the Spring Revolution for now.

In addition to this recent report of The Irrawaddy said that the UWSA, NDAA and SSPP, all of them EAOs from Shan State, rejected the junta’s ultimatum or demand that they stop supporting the parallel NUG, its Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) parliamentary body, and its People’s Defense Force (PDF) armed wing.

The three EAOs during their attendance of the so-called peace talks with the regime in Naypyitaw from January 5-7, the junta’s National Solidarity and Peace Negotiation Committee (NSPNC) reportedly coerced them into signing an agreement to comply with the junta’s demand.

“They asked us to sign an agreement not to support and sell arms to the CRPH, the NUG and the PDF. We didn’t accept that. There was a heated argument and we told them that we would walk out if they kept insisting that we sign the agreement,” a source told The Irrawaddy.

On January 24, Shan Herald reported that tension has been rising as the junta sent reconnaissance military flight over SSPP headquarters in Wanhai.

At around 11:50 a.m. On January 24, a Yak-130 military council jet fighter hovered over Wan Hai headquarters at a height of more than 300 feet, SSPP spokesperson Lt. Col. Sai Su told the Shan Herald.
“With no prior notice, a jet fighter flew into our headquarters. It circled two rounds. The first round flew at a height of around 500 meters, and in the second round at a height of more than 300 meters. Now, although we have inquired about the reason for intrusion we haven’t received any reply from the Naypyitaw yet,” explained spokesman Lt. Col. Sai Su to the Shan Herald.

“If they come again without prior notice we will definitely shoot it down and at that time don’t say that our side is reacting unreasonably,” said the spokesman.

Conditions for a successful revolution

According to “Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements,” by James DeFronzo, five conditions for a successful revolution are listed as follows:

  1. Mass frustration resulting in local uprisings;
  2. Dissident elites;
  3. Powerful unifying motivations;
  4. A severe crisis paralyzing state administrative & coercive powers; and
  5. A permissive or tolerant world context.

Burma or Myanmar situation actually met all the conditions mentioned above for a successful revolution.

For example, there is mass frustration leading to local uprising because the military staged a coup and took away the people’s partial democratic rights that they enjoyed from 2011 to 2021, which is intolerably breaching their freedom and thus met with the countrywide resistance.

There is more than enough dissident elites joining the revolution.

The powerful unifying motivations are to uproot the military dictatorship, including all forms of autocratic rules, and unwavering aspirations to rebuild the country within the frame of federal democratic union.

A severe crisis paralyzing state administrative and coercive powers can be seen by countrywide anti-coup demonstrations and later armed resistance that transformed into nationwide civil war and the military inability to rule as more than 50 percent of the country’s territories are under the control of ethnic-democratic forces. According to Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M), the junta can only claim to have stable control over 17 percent of the country, as its rule is being actively contested elsewhere.

A permissive or tolerant world context is also the prevailing atmosphere, because the neighboring countries and even the ASEAN cannot do anything to defuse the ongoing civil war and seems unwilling to take sides of the two conflict parties, the military junta and the ethnic-democratic forces, which can either be taken as being impotent, indifference, or tolerance to the revolutionary movement.

In sum, it may be seen as favorable conditions for a successful revolution as outlined by James DeFronzo.

Moves that still need to be undertaken

Nevertheless, even if the Spring Revolution may have grown with leaps and bounds in less than two years it is still quite far away from immediate victory for several reasons.

In general terms political unity and military cohesion still need to be solidify and important nuts and bolts have to be in place first.

In practical sense political unity actually can only be achieved by resolving the constitutional crisis which has plagued the country from the outset since the country’s independence from the British in 1948.

To make the long story short, Bamar political class has never honored the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which is the sole legal bond between the Bamar and the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities; refusal of non-Bamar ethnic nationalities’ 1961 federal amendment proposal, popularly known as Shan Federal Proposal, of the 1948 Union of Burma Constitution to make it more federal, as it was only federal in structure but unitary in essense; and steadfast rejection of ethnic equality, democracy, federalism and human rights by successive Bamar military leaders and Bamar civilian political class to these days.

Thus in order to win over the remaining EAOs, the NUG and its ethnic allies may need to produce a federal democratic union constitution and not just Federal Democracy Charter (FDC), which is just the guidelines and not constitution. For the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities this has to be in place first or agreed upon first before committing themselves to the war-time coalition-building. In other words, the transformation of FDC to federal democratic union constitution has to be speeded up, without delay, as no decisive move from the part of the remaining EAOs will happen if the constitution is not in place.

It is true that sequencing and one step at a time is the way to go. But constitutional drafting, which at least should include agreed core principles, will have to be given priority so that speedy political unity and expansion of military alliance between the NUG and EAOs could gain momentum.

To sum up, achievement of political unity depends solely upon agreeable constitution of all stakeholders, which in turn will pave way for further network of military coordination and cooperation, if not exactly under one command.

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