Myanmar or Burma issue has always been a back-burner for international community, especially for the West, in comparison to the Ukraine-Russia war. Now that Gaza-Israel war has erupted, it is pushed back even further, with no hope for international attention in helping resolve the conflict.
Against this backdrop, the junta at present has been pushing the agenda of holding its planned election in 2024 or 2025, with the backing of China, India and Thailand, as could be seen by the speeches of the three countries dignitaries during the 8th Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signatory anniversary occasion on October 15, 2023. And parallel to it the junta is waging an oppressive war against the whole country to intimidate and cow the population into submission to its tyrannical rule.
In the same vein, the anti-junta ethnic-democratic alliance are bent on uprooting the military junta which calls itself State Administration Council (SAC) by all means.
The loose ethnic-democratic alliance are the National Unity Government (NUG), the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Karenni National Progressive Party, (KNPP), Karen National Union (KNU), Chin National Front (CNF) and All Burma Student’s Democratic Front (ABSDF), which cooperate militarily but still need to refine and agree upon common political outlook to be on the same wavelength.
Junta bent on oppression of the people
According to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners AAPP (Burma) report of 20 October 2023:
“Since the February 1, 2021 coup, a total of (4,152) people, including pro-democracy activists and civilians have been killed by the junta and pro-military groups during the Spring Revolution. In addition to the total fatality figure, AAPP has documented around (500) deceased persons whose names are unknown and still need to be verified.
Since the coup, a total of (25,324) people have been arrested by the junta in relation to its seizure of power, (19,603) are currently in detention, (7,806) of whom are serving sentences.
There are a total of (113) post-coup death row prisoners as of October 20, 2023. (119) people have been sentenced in absentia, of whom (43) have been sentenced to death. This makes a total of (156) people who have been sentenced to death. (5,721) people have already been released.”
According to the Institute for Strategy and Policy (ISP-Myanmar) in a statement on 13 October, Junta troops have carried out 22 massacres, which were at least more than 10 civilian casualties, across Myanmar since the February 2021 military coup. The total civilian death toll is 502 ISP-Myanmar reported.
The massacres happened across Bago Region, Kachin State, Kayah State, Magway Region, Rakhine State, Southern Shan State, and Sagaing Region.
The most recent bombardment on civilians killed 29 people, including 11 children, happened on October 9 at Mung Lai Hkyet internally displaced persons camp near the Kachin Independence Army headquarters of Laiza, in Kachin State.
Argument that election is better than one man rule
Many of those who attended the 8th NCA signing anniversary occasion have a collective view that one man dictatorial rule should better be replaced with three separation of powers through election. In other words, Gen Min Aung Hlaing head of the SAC be replaced through his planned election to dilute his concentration of power.
One well known peace talks backer and participant from the beginning who also attended the occasion and refused to be named summed up the mood of the junta-near people attending it as follows:-
On question of how to pull out the whole country from armed conflict situation, all should collectively ponder because the people have to bear the brunt and afraid of both (military and anti-military) sides.
In order to overcome this situation the following situation has to be considered, according to the unpublicized analysis.
- The military is still in one piece
- Internationally it is still being recognized and also rejected at the same time
- The anti-junta groups are fighting individually in their own ways
- The anti-junta camps are still not united and not easy to be united
That is why the country’s way out has only the election left (to choose). At least if the three powers (executive, legislative and judicial) held by a sole person can be divided into four parts, Tatmadaw (military) included, the country will be relieved. It is hoped if it can be handled correctly it may be the beginning of the end (to resolve the conflict). The following are the gist of what they have said.
- See holding election is better than no election. Most National League for Democracy (NLD) are Civil Disobedience Movement/ People’s Defence Force (CDM/PDF), so non-NLD will win the election. Coalition government will have to be formed. We should wait and see 3-4 years. Whether it is a way out for the country depends on if international community (countries) accepted or not.
- All know how Hun Sen (of Cambodia) won the election. But this has been accepted.
- Campaign for holding election can only be done on district-level now. Township-level can be invited with meeting only for the time being.
- Russia-Ukraine war has impacted a lot on Burma/Myanmar. Now Hamas-Israel conflict is unfolding. Next year March there will be Taiwan election and we don’t know how it will impact on us.
- China said U Than Shwe and U Thein Sein both didn’t like the present situation. For this China considered election is the only way out.
- In order NLD to re-enter (the political arena) this is the only way available.
- ASEAN 5-Point Consensus (5PC) can also be sidelined if the election can be held. If not SAC will be in a jam the longer it takes.
- People will also be in more difficulties if there is no election. U Than Shwe military government considered that in the long run it wouldn’t be good and drew up a roadmap, held election. Now election is not being held and making extension (of the military rule).
- It also compared Burma’s dilemma to the Tibet situation of foreign-based Tibetan radical, aspiring for total independence from China and the inland-Tibetan who wanted to make the best out of a bad situation, mode of thinking in a documentary Thai TV, hosted by Suthichai Yun and Thepchai Yong, both veteran journalists, in 1996-97.
NCA as a last straw for the junta
Many said Gen Min Aung Hlaing is using the 8th NCA signing anniversary occasion as a ruse or even sort of clinging to the last straw to use it for his political way out. But as the occasion was attended only by 7 NCA-Signatory Ethnic Armed Organizations (NCA-S EAOs) from the original 10, it is hard to portray it as being successful. Especially, when from the 7 that attended only Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) has sizeable military strength and the rest are either not strong enough, have few troopers or don’t have soldiers at all.
As for China, India and Thailand they have always been keen to deal with the government of the day or the one sitting in Naypyitaw, even if less than fifty percent of the country’s territories are under its control, according to its own statement.
Remarkably, non-signatory EAOs, such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) or Mongla didn’t attend the 8th NCA signing anniversary occasion even though they were said to be invited. Needless to say of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) or Kokang, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) which are fighting the junta.
No wonder that the RCSS leader Gen Yawd Serk during the occasion said: “The 8 years long time span has not been able to implement the NCA; it (NCA) has been stopped, especially since the 2020 election crisis; due to the inability to resolve the political crisis peacefully, the country today is facing a military conflict and its consequences, which needs remedy so that the situation don’t get worse; the only way out for the country is through dialogue without pre-conditions; and in order to build a federal democratic union, the constitution needs to be amended, which could be acceptable by all.”
Given such hardline positions in both camps, the junta and ethnic-democratic forces are not going to agree to sit at the negotiation table anytime soon.
ASEAN members can’t agree upon a common agenda concerning Burma, the UN and the West are occupied more with the Ukraine-Russia war and now with Hamas-Israel conflict in the Middle East.
China, India and Thailand want to back the junta’s planned election and accept the outcome whatever it may be.
The majority population of Burma are determined to uproot the military junta as they are convinced that their aspirations of establishing federal democratic union cannot be realizable under military rule. In other words, the military has to exit from the political arena for good.
No one knows if the notion of choosing the lesser evil, which means tolerating the military clique again like the President Thein Sein era with military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) calling the shots and eventually allowing the cowed NLD back into the parliament, as underlings, will be feasible for the population.
The likely compromise for the anti-junta opposition that will be acceptable is if the junta agrees to exit the political arena with the promise for its soft-landing. But the junta position so far is the annihilation of the NUG or surrender and it doesn’t even consider it to be a negotiation partner, except the EAOs.
However, all armed conflict has to end at the negotiation table, if one party doesn’t win decisively, which is the case now in Burma. As such, talking without pre-condition may be the only way possible to at least create a hope for an atmosphere of truce. Otherwise, all stakeholders can muddle through without clear roadmap on how the conflict should be tackled, like they are doing all along for more than two years now, at the expense of the suffering population.