In the aftermath of the Sagaing Forum, where local resistance groups and many affiliated organizations took part, the Bamar State formation come up as a pressing and crucial issue which has to be discussed and prepare if ever the aspirations of establishing a federal democratic union is to come into being.
Indeed the Bamar military leaders and civilian political elites alike have skirted the issue and have never given due attention to this issue demanded by the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities ever since 1961, under the federal constitution amendment proposal within the then parliamentary system, that led to the military took over from the civilian government by the late General Ne Win in 1962.
The military leaders’ argument then was federalism equaled separatism or dismemberment of the country. It has steadfastly maintained this position until the military drafted constitution in 2008 where federalism is again mentioned as a way to resolve the ethnic conflict within the country. But still the military drafted constitution which should be the basis to achieve federalism is unitary in nature and as such, it doesn’t come anywhere near to become federal, much less democratic.
Whatever the case let us look at the mode of thinking of the new political elite of the day and how they intend to go about with the Bamar State formation.
In this respect, the positions of the National Unity Government (NUG), Sagaing Forum and Bamar People’s Liberation Army (BPLA) are selected, in order to determine whether they are really committed to it as crucial issue that needs to be tackle seriously in the building of federal democratic union or just indifferent to the issue.
The Federal Democracy Charter (FDC) Part 2 Chapter 8, under the heading of “Administration, Legislation and Judiciary of the States/Federal Units” in its Sections 52 and 53 writes:
“52. In accordance with the principle of self-determination in the context of building the federal union enshrined in the Charter, the administrative, legislative and judicial mechanisms of the respective States/Federal Units shall be established as necessary.”
“53. The legislative, administrative, and judicial matters between the Union and the States/Federal Units shall be coordinated at the National Unity Consultative Council.”
Thus, the FDC acknowledged the need to create and adjust the recent States/Regions (Divisions) that will be in tune with the people’s aspirations, including the formation of the “Bamar State” in general, although it doesn’t mention directly and rather vague in its formulation.
Now let us see what NUG Justice Minister U Thein Oo said during his discussion with Bo Naga, leader of local resistance group Myanmar Royal Dragon Army (MRDA) in Sagaing Division, regarding the building of a “Bamar State”, in Khit Thit Media video podcast of September 14, 2022.
U Thein Oo pinpointed the accepted international norms concerning the criteria of an ethnic state creation of having to be a connected area at a stretch, without being broken. Thus, he reasoned that Tanintharyi Division will be a separate state, because the Mon State is in between; the Irrawaddy Division is mixed population of Karen and Bamar, almost half each; Rangoon or Yangon Division may choose to become a separate City State as it has multi-ethnic population and may again become the nation’s capital and so on. Thus in short, we may have to ponder on the remaining four divisions (Sagaing, Mandalay, Magwe and Bago) to form a Bamar State theoretically, he said as an outgoing point.
He also pointed out that the late General Ne Win creation of seven divisions, which later become regions, was in fact an unfair practice as it meant the Bamar got seven votes and each ethnic state only has one vote each when determining political decisions at national level. The same was true with financial distribution as the seven divisions, mostly inhabited by Bamar ethnic, would have more advantage than all the ethnic states. Thus creation of a “Bamar State” was the only way to go about in building a fair federal union, he reasoned.
In the same vein, Bamar People’s Liberation Army (BPLA) leader Maung Saung Kha told various media why his group is for the creation of “Bamar State”.
BPLA has been formed on April 17, 2021 in Karen State, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 5 area with the help of KNLA, armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU). It is now believed to field some hundreds of disciplined fighters and has been actively participating in KNLA Brigade 5 area, together with the KNLA and NUG/People’s Defense Force (PDF) against the military junta. It also is operating in northern Shan State, under the Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). Its aim is to penetrate back to Bamar populated area after it has gathered enough military experiences in the ethnic states.
BPLA leader Maung Saung Kha told The Irrawaddy on May 27, 2023 that he came to the awareness that Bamar State is needed to be on equal-footing with the other ethnic states during the peaceful strikes, under the banner of General Strike Committee of Nationalities (GSCN), following the military coup on February 2021. He said that he noticed that all the other ethnic states had their flags when staging anti-regime demonstration but there was no flag to represent the Bamar ethnic group. Thus he thought the Bamar should have a flag and also a state to be on equal basis with the other ethnic states. He later formed BPLA along this conviction.
On its website the BPLA political goals are stated as follows:
- The downfall of the dictatorship and the liberation of all the people from oppressive rule
- An end to racial supremacy doctrine and achievement of equality and self-determination
- Building a new federal state that guarantees democracy and human rights
- In the construction of a new federal union, the inclusion of the Bamar Federal Unit (or) Bamar State as the Union member and
- Protecting the freedom and safety of the public.
Moreover, in an interview regarding the Bamar State issue, Maung Saung Kha discussed his political conviction with the Federal FM on April 12, 2023 as follows:
“The issue of Bamar State cannot be pushed aside. This issue has to be earnestly thought out and has to start talking about it as it is necessary, especially the revolutionary leaders from Sagaing, Magwe and Mandalay. These people should boldly discussed publicly on whether it should be pondered upon or make clarification on their political standings, so that the public understand them, which is if Bamar State creation is necessary or not in a debate form, for example. Only then will the public understand if formation of the Bamar State will be beneficial for the union or not.”
“Because the Bamar State issue concerned not only the Bamar it also involved the union. If we aim at all-inclusive union, which is really harmonious, equal, self-governance guarantee federal system, Bamar State issue must be considered and we should begin talking about it.”
“Some said the Bamar State issue should be handled only by the Bamar and non-Bamar should not be involved is not appropriate. We don’t see it that way because this is the union issue. We think this is extremely narrow-minded to exclude the non-Bamar inputs.”
“ We need to listen to others point of view and opinion and should even ask if they don’t air their opinion. We should go about with it in this way. Because it is not easy for a state to emerge and should not take it lightly. It cannot be decided by an individual or an organization. It should be discussed with all stakeholders, with the aim to create a stable, equal union. We would like to urge to consider the Bamar State issue in such a collective manner.”
The first Sagaing Forum was successfully convened for two days from May 30, to May 31, 2023 where 173 revolutionary organizations based in 28 townships in the region and 31 observers attended and discussed in the meeting. 27 partner organizations’ congratulatory wishes were received by the Forum. The four politics, military, local governance and general sectors were discussed, including sectors like strikes, civil disobedience movement (CDM), natural resources and humanitarian assistance for IDPs were also discussed for the future of the region, according to the Sagaing Forum statement, dated June 1, 2023.
The collective standpoints mentioned are:
- Aim to establish the Sagaing Consultative Council (or) a body where all political and revolutionary organizations of the region can collectively coordinate and make decisions in order to eliminate all forms of dictatorship, including military dictatorship, adopt self-autonomy, self-determination and establish federal democracy.
- The next political step urgently needed at regional level are establishment of regional level transitional arrangements; policy-making for regional level self-determination; check and balance between administrative and military bodies and military bodies that are based in the region; and uniting and strengthening of Local People’s Defense Force (LPDF) and PDF in the region.
The Forum participants agree to carry out the tasks mentioned above in accordance with the Federal Democratic Charter (FDC).
On June 4, 2023, Federal Journal conducted an interview with Sagaing Forum spokesman Khant Wai Phyoe on Bamar State issue as follows:
Question: During the Sagaing Forum, ethnic armed organizations, including the National Unity Government, civil society organizations and revolutionary organizations have expressed their belief that Sagaing will make efforts to build a federal unit or a federal unit for the construction of federal democracy. How were you able to react?
Answer: In the Spring Revolution, people of all ethnicity lost their lives, and unequivocally demand that this country should be a federal union. The democratic system must be applied.
Thus at this time, when the people are overwhelmingly demanding a new federal democratic union, it is time for Sagaing Division to make preparations to be built as a federal unit.
Because of this, all the revolutionary organizations living in our region must make efforts to develop a federal unit through the Sagaing Forum, which is our historical responsibility.
At this point, we have to make effort based on current reality and boundary of Sagaing Division to speed up the revolutionary movement.
How the federal units will be defined after the transition period is seen as a future process that will go according to the transitional constitution.
The decision of the public is the main thing. As for us, during the current revolutionary period, the relevant National Unity Consultative Council, in order to initiate Sagaing as a federal unit, National Unity Government, Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), intend to take into consideration the opinions of the ethnic revolution organizations.
How much Sagaing can do to build a federal unit depends on the political vision of the parliament representatives in the region, such as Committee Representing Sagaing Hlutaw (CRSH), who hold de jure power, and a true conviction to achieve a federal union. Based on these, it depends on how much we can negotiate between the revolutionary forces on the ground fighting to create de facto power.
Sagaing Division is grateful for the ethnic revolutionary organizations’ encouragement to establish a federal unit. To be able to achieve as encouraged, it is the duty of political organizations and revolutionary organizations within the Sagaing Division to strive for it.
Given such positive mode of thinking among the Bamar military opposition groups and encouragement of many ethnic revolutionary organizations, the Bamar State formation issue may probably sail through when the federal democratic union transitional constitution is drafted. But the challenge of awareness-building among the Bamar public and those who are indoctrinated by Bamar racial supremacy doctrine will not be an easy task and could even be an uphill battle.
But the Bamar public political awareness is tremendously high, especially after the military coup in February 2021 said BPLA leader Maung Saung Kha in a recent interview with Federal FM. Thus he thought the issue of Bamar State formation may not be too hard to sell to the Bamar public.
Like his suggestion, the Sagaing Forum and the leaders in Bamar heartland of Dry Zone should take the lead and communicate with the public as a necessary step, to right the historical wrong, leading to the drafting of criteria of federal constituent unit or ethnic state formation, starting with the Bamar State issue and which may eventually be included in the future federal constitution.