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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2427

Constitutional Change and the Future for Burma

By Kanbawza Win

I dread at the thought of future and sometimes my fickle mind would have a nightmare of that a second Galon U Saw has appeared.

In Burma the word “Galon U Saw” is somewhat similar to Judas Iscariot, for he is the one that orchestrated the killing Aung San and his cabinet ministers just before the Union of Burma, came into being in 1948.

So also now with the impending change of the 2008 Nargis Constitution will someone take a pot shot at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? If so, it will be the one from the hard line Tatmadaw members blessed by none other than Sr. General Than Shwe, himself who still heads the National Defense and Security Council, the most powerful in the country. His vehement hatred for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is so much that no one dares to mention her name in front of him.

Hence, he deliberately put Article 59 (f) stipulating that “one of the parents, one of the legitimate children, or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not subject to foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a foreign government or citizen of a foreign country.” And many in the ruling party and the Tatmadaw members are against amending the charter article.

Now that even the USDP, the ruling pro-military party has agree to change this controversial Constitution, including a change to a provision that prevents opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. The central committee of the ruling USDP voted its support of 51 different constitutional amendments, including changes that could allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run. But it did not meet the NLD 168 clauses in 14 chapters of the Constitution.

USDP, jokingly known in Burmese as a rubber stamp members seems to sense that since their days are numbered with the coming election they might as well do at least something to remember and beneficial to the country and people.

Many in Burma, have seen Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her struggle against the former military government as a symbol for hope. Her supporters believe her presidency would be a measure of success for the country’s reform. There was even a small demonstration in Rangoon as demands have grown louder among politicians and lawmakers for amending the constitution. The 2008 Nargis Constitution, requires a 75% majority to be amended; as 25% of the seats in Parliament are reserved for military appointees, any change must get backing from the powerful armed forces. It is at this time unclear if the military lawmakers back the constitutional changes to clear the path for Suu Kyi’s run. Even President Thein Sein himself said, “A healthy Constitution must be amended from time to time to address the national, economic and social needs of our society. I would not want restrictions imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country,”

However, he added, “I would like to emphasize that if the political demands made by the public are larger than what the current political system can accommodate, we can all end up in political deadlock. If this happens, we could lose all the political freedom we have achieved so far. I would therefore like to urge all of you to handle such situation with care and wisdom.”

This clearly indicates that the Supremo Than Shwe and the hardliners are not at all happy about it and may stage another coup as the current situation stipulates and lost everything the country has gained up to this day. It was also unclear whether talk of amendments would translate to action and did not give a clear message. It is also possible that another Galon U Saw may appear from the Tatmadaw hardliners to make the story short, as the history of Myanmar has a good record of killing the heroes starting from Black Smith Maung Tint Daé . One has to remember that Aung San was killed not because of political policy difference but because of personal jealously and paradoxically the facial features of the sullen bull dog face of Sr-General Than Shwe is very similar to Galon U Saw.

NLD Participation

The possible role of the Lady is a reward for her political standing by soft liners within the Burmese Tatmadaw, which in fact, is another way for the Tatmadawto use Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for its own benefit. The fact that reforms are currently underway is because the goals of the Tatmadaw partly overlap those of the opposition. Deepening poverty led to unrest in 1988 and 2007. Developing the economy is necessary to prevent further political instability, but can only be achieved by placating the West through democratic reforms. The sanctions have to be removed for Burma to flourish again. This will at the same time result in less dependence on China—another goal of the Tatmadaw. To summarize: the Tatmadaw wants political stability through development, as well as personal security which is guaranteed by the 2008 Nargis Constitution and protection of its economic stakes which it achieved through the selling off of state property to a handful of business cronies on a large scale in 2010/2011.

One will have to recollect the heated debates within the NLD in the run up to the November 2010 elections. The NLD decided not to register and voluntarily left the playing field— some call it a blunder but backed by senior members could be consider as a clever move. There are two possible scenarios. In the first, the regime would have found an excuse to kick the NLD out. This would have meant that the outcome of the elections would not have been acceptable to the West and ASEAN. In the second scenario, the NLD would have taken part and the regime would have been forced to allow the NLD a larger share of Parliament seats than it allowed the National Democratic Front and the Democratic Party. But the NLD left through the backdoor.

But suddenly, NLD was surprised by a president who started to reform. Continuing to stay on the sidelines posed the very real danger of the NLD withering away or being overtaken by opposition parties who were willing to play ball. This cold realization ultimately forced the party back into the game, under bad conditions. Entering the system again means that the NLD will legitimize the government internationally without getting any real power in return. Although the party wins all the seats that are up for grabs, it is still only be a very small minority. But as already proved that the by-elections are free and fair—which the skirt wearing government could easily afford --the sanctions is lifted, which means Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will lose her main trump card and her morality influence in the international community. All of this indicates that the NLD keeps looking at the political reality through the lens of its own ideals and demands, instead of trying to understand what motivates the Tatmadawand to strategically get a step ahead of the opponent.

The Tatmadaw have used Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the easiest way to diffuse the danger and dampen her popularity. The Tatmadaw dominated Parliament have made sure she never gets the budget, she needs to really achieve anything and today she has lost much of her aura in this way. At the same time, President Thein Sein and his colleagues at key ministries took popular measures that have an impact on the daily lives of many Burmese. Thein Sein has proven himself to be a shrewd politician. With his resignation from USDP Chairman he can be has already pocketed a position with the next elections in mind. Perhaps like the Romans used to placate the people with bread and games, the Tatmadaw has used Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, her influence in the West, and her immense popularity for its own strategic means, while at the same time making the Burmese people happy by projecting the illusion of the Lady being a real player.

We can only hope and pray that the more strategically gifted politicians of the 88 Generation group—notably, Min Ko Naing and the likes—who are now waiting in the wings will soon be at the helm of the opposition. It’s about time the former generals get some opponents of their own caliber to play with.

Divide Pro-Democracy with the Ethnic Nationalities

Cold shivers always pass through the spines of the Burmese Generals at the thought of the pro- democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi backed by the 8888 generation together with the ethnic nationalities to create a prosperous democratic, federal union of Burma. They clearly see that there will be no place for them in the sun once the sides of the coins become one. So it was natural that they endeavor to divide the two at any cost.

What struck me most is that in mid-December, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi announced that the NLD would boycott the 2015 election “if she couldn’t run for President.” Then, ten days later she abruptly reversed this position, saying that the NLD would participate even without a Constitutional amendment permitting her to run. Now that even the USDP, Than Shwe’s proxy has agree to change this controversial Constitution including a change to a provision that prevents opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. Therefore the hypothesis is- Is there some secret dealing with Daw Suu and the hard line generals to marginalize the Non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities regarding the federal structure?

The basic difference between the Myanmar and the Non- Myanmar is that the Myanmar view the ethnic nationality as somewhat the necessary evil of the country where he is destined to live forever and that it is his unbounded duty to lead him to Myanmar civilization and finally lead him to Theravada Buddhism on to Nirvana. On the other hand the Non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities view that the Myanmar people spearheaded by the Tatmadaw is still un-civilize as shown by their actions not only towards the ethnic cleansing of the Non-Myanmar, but also raping, pillaging, looting, land grapping and also in the killing of Buddhist monks as the way they are behaving for the past half a century, if not more, and should be brought back to civilization and educate them to be in the international civilization which they are trying to do now.

The Myanmar intellectual view that the ethnicity is an incurable disease -both the dominant one and the others – as an infectious disease which no one is immune to it. Some are able to take a step back and reflect on their own (taught) prejudices while others find ethnic sentiments to be too powerful to embrace. Underneath the beautifully worded chronic affirmation of liberal-sounding principles and policies lurks these powerful 'primordial feelings'. It is highly debatable whether ethnic consciousness is 'primordial' as some anthropologists and political scientists have asserted (e.g. Clifford Geertz) or whether it is a result of a conscious political socialization, however rudimentary and 'primitive' the process may be.

But the first order question - whether ethnicity consciousness is an manufactured item or genetic (born) - appears less important and less pressing than what one does about it as the ethnic flame rages on at the core of Burma's politics. Some readers may find some items rather extreme and frightening. For instance, the one where Hitler's Final Solution was openly held up as a model for protecting racial and ethnic purity of people or peoples considered indigenous to the land. This is what the Mahar Myanmar is thinking in their mind and hence the ethnic cleansing. It will definitely 'shock and awe' the readers, to copy the ethnic cleansing on the Rwanda lines but it offer a glimpse of what goes on in the opposition in exile on the question of ethnicity, ethnic rights to self-determination, and so on, both among those who hold leadership positions in their respective, Diaspora ethnic communities and those who are 'ordinary' members of the opposition in general. The views expressed in all these pieces are fairly representative of where Burma's peoples, especially the ones who are politically aware or minded, are mentally, emotionally and intellectually.

The classic, if misleading, debate about the two seemingly opposing priorities or missions - democracy versus ethnic self-determination - has, over the past 50 years, been a major cause of spectacular failures to forge any type of genuine solidarity - both in spirit and organizationally in the country's modern political history. The late Prime Minister U Nu and his armed resistance movement parted way with their resistance brothers (and sisters) - the Mons, the Karens, the Shans, etc. - in the early 1970's over this issue, and collapsed thereafter.

The Myanmar-identified leaders of the Tatmadaw have evidently taken that to heart: they are fully equipped to debate the issue of ethnicity, in the own Myanmar version. On their part, the ethnicity-based political organizations have long felt necessary to approach the issue in a reciprocal fashion, taking up arms or retaining arms. Even the mainstream opposition leadership that was born out of multi-ethnic, anti-Ne Win uprisings of the 1988 has not been immune from this common disease.

As far as opposition groups, the outlook toward this ethnic question evolves, progressive or regressive - depending on the policy and behavior of Burma's main political player the generals are not adjusting their views toward ethnicity or the manner in which they will debate with anyone on it.

It is evident that the Non-Myanmar, ethnic nationalities of Burma are waging a war of survival against the Orwellian type of dictatorship It is against what they call the three A's -- Annihilation, Absorption, and Assimilation. In fact, just entering its seventh decade, it's the world's longest-running war for autonomy. The non-Myanmar leaders collectively attempted to readdress the Constitutional crises based on federal system as envisioned in the Panglong Conference, but the average Myanmar perspective is that they are a superior one and maintain that the Myanmar should control the Union by exploiting the rest of the other nationalities. Their move is to be interpreted as a force to assimilate all the diverse ethnic groups into Myanmarnization. The late Dr. Choa Tzang eloquently pointed out that:-

“It is important for all the races, especially for the Myanmar, to fully embrace the idea of equality. Many Myanmar seem to think of the Myanmar as superior, or as Big Brothers, although there is no evidence of the Myanmar being superior to any race, collectively or individually.”

So until and unless the Myanmar ethnic groups discard the superior ideology of their nationalism, no stable Union can be established. There can be no peaceful co-existence of those culturally diverse nationalities within one political system.

There is no predestined provision or any sort of authorization provided of the Myanmar ethnic group to exploit against the rest of other Non-Myanmar nationalities in today’s political arena of the Union of Burma. Hence to establish a stable Union in future, the onus totally is on our fellow Myanmar. They should sincerely mull over whether they would discard their superiority mindset or they would continuously repeat the colossal mistakes that they committed behind the long political deadlocks of the Union of Burma which the entire history seem to witness never unendingly.

Constitutional Changes

A Constitution which guarantees the rights of the people and restricts the powers of the government is a crucial foundation in the building of a country, however if it denies the rights of the people and the rights to do things for the authorities is certain to destroy the country. The 2008 Nargis Constitution, basically denies the rights of the people and prioritizes the rights of the ruling authorities, will certainly lead the country to total destruction. Moreover the 2008 Nargis Constitution does not harbour any regard for factors that could build trust among ethnic national forces.

Even though the armed ethnic nationalities organizations have entered cease fire, there is still no efforts made to allow these organizations to set up as legal political entities in accordance with the law as the flare up in Kachin state indicates. It must be remembered that thirteen armed ethnic national groups which had signed ceasefire agreements with the government put forward a joint proposal for the formation of a federal union. But the Tatmadaw didn't take any action on this advice even though the national convention is completed. This completely destroyed the trust of the armed ethnic ceasefire groups. The WA totally rejected the 2008 Nargis Constitution,but little was said over the state controlled Burmese media, because the WA was able to prevent the Tatmadaw men from entering their territory and set up its own ballot boxes.

It may appear that a decomposition of the Tatmadaw and security apparatus holds the possibility of opening up the regime to civilian influence and finally changes the overall power relations, as it happened during military regimes in Latin America; but not in Burma. Dissidents and analysts alike have often interpreted purges and reshuffles in Burma’s Tatmadaw as indications for institutional upheavals, rifts between military factions, or an imminent change of leadership. However, the regime has proven to be astonishingly resilient and stable since it seems to subordinate any national consideration under its corporate interest and institutional coherence. Obviously, reshuffles have proven to be a reliable tool for the regime to maintain a steady circulation of personnel to prevent the formation of internal factions and power bases within the upper echelon of the Tatmadaw. Moreover, they give the officers a calculable prospect of upward mobility within the administration and expectations of regional commanders to move to cabinet positions in the ministries.

The military has taken precautions in the new 2008 Nargis Constitution not to compromise the coherence of its coercive apparatus. It will have an unchecked control of internal/home security and defence matters and will be able as it is now to operate its institution without any interference from civilians. One of the biggest obstacles for any real change in Burma’s power relations is the pervasive control of the military over the formal sector of the economy and the country’s natural resources. This monopoly provides a constant funding stream that allows the military to sustain its power position notwithstanding international sanctions. It is inconceivable that it will forgo this power in any foreseeable future. Those civilians who are profiting from the military economic system like cronies, family members, and loyal friends has so far not been able to develop independent political space. They remain dependent on their military patrons who are slowly morphing into oligarchs.

A constitution in any democracy must clearly define the position of the military and provide for appropriate national defense, while providing mechanisms to prevent the misuse of power. There should be civilian control over the military, and the military should be subordinate to the executive arm of government in particular. To achieve this, the military cannot also be part of the legislature, nor have the power to appoint ministers. A range of constitutional approaches can limit military power. Some constitutions adopt a minimal approach and briefly refer to the military as subordinate to the executive, leaving other details for further regulation by the legislature. Others take a more expansive approach and set out in detail the role of the military and the limits of its powers.

In Burma the Tatmadaw is under the control of the Defense Services Commander-in-Chief, who is appointed by the President. But the President's appointment is subject to the approval of the National Defense and Security Council, a majority of whose members are from the Tadmadaw. In practice, this means the military has significant influence in appointing its own commander. The Constitution does not specify the term of the Commander-in-Chief, the qualifications the position requires or the circumstances in which he could be removed from his position. In contrast, the office of the President has a clear term, the candidate must meet set requirements, and there is a clear process for removal from office.

The 2008 Nargis Constitution creates a complex relationship between the President, the Commander-in-Chief and the military-dominated National Defense and Security Council. In addition to being subordinate to the executive, the military must not be immune from the law and should also be required to comply with human rights obligations. There are several different approaches to military justice in democratic countries. In some systems, a crime committed by a Tatmadaw officer may be heard by the general courts, and in other contexts such cases are heard by a system of special military courts. For example, Indonesia has a system of Military Courts with a right to appeal to the Supreme Court, a general body.

There has been public debate in Indonesia about whether the matters that go to military courts would be dealt with more fairly by the general courts. But the 2008 Nargis Constitution provides for a system of court martial, with an ultimate appeal to Commander-in-Chief. In contrast to Indonesia, there is no right to appeal to the Supreme Court in Burma, which means that the decision of the Commander-in-Chief is not subject to review.

Special military courts allow for a degree of specialization because they are constituted by judges who have a background in the military. This is why it is important that the current constitutional amendment process clarify the role of the Tatmadaw Formal changes to ensure that the military is subject to the control of the executive, and that there are clear limits to its power, would be an important step. But while the formal safeguards of an amended Constitution will help Burma transition to democracy, substantive changes matter too. It is equally important that there exists a culture and mentality within broader society that the Tatmadaw should in fact play a subordinate role to the executive, have no influence over the legislature, and remain subject to the rule of law.

The Burmese regime's point of view, the Constitution provides for a stable transition to democratic rule. It should be recollected that previously eight Shan leaders including Khun Tun Oo were sentenced to between 75 and 106 years in prison for trying to protect the rights of ethnic nationalities is the main raison d’être. Even though they were eventually release it proves that the regime is much afraid of the building of a genuine union in which ethnic nationals would have equal rights and self-determination. The actions against the Shan leaders is a way of stopping the peaceful political activities of ethnic nationals and the only way open is through violence this gross injustice compel the public to lost confidence in the skirt wearing military government.

Given this the regime’s claim of heading towards ethnic national unity holds no water. It has no political legitimacy, no input from major ethnic national organizations, and no aim except to perpetuate the military rule. For some two decades, the military regime in Burma has described itself as a transitional government that will lead Burma to democracy and national reconsolidation. But now analysts agree that this process will not end military dominance, some view it as a beneficial first step that will ultimately open up political space. In fact it rather completes a process in the Tatmadaw, further expanded its role in state and society and pushed back the citizenry. A close look at different aspects of the current state of Burma’s military governance and civil military relations indicates that the generals do not underestimate the potential for political processes to develop by their recent actions. There are different ways prepared to prevent any basic changes in the power relations in the future political system.

Some analysts like to think that these are first steps to change, a closer look at the new constitution, the structural conditions of military rule and the civil-military relations make prospects for a real shift in the power relations in Burma look dismal. It is important to note that the regime is completing the constitutional process at a point in time when it has actually consolidated its power as never before. It is ending the “transitional period” obviously not out of respect for democracy and its principles but because, now it can afford to do so. It is in a position of strength and confident to be able control the outcome. In fact there is no indication to believe that the Tadmadaw at any point in time during the last decades intended to extricate itself from politics or envisioned itself in a newly defined, non-political role in a future, civilianised political system.

The 2008 Nargis Constitution legalizes dictatorship through a civilian front and a rubber-stamp Parliaments to do its bidding. For Burma's Generals this Constitution is a way of securing their rule. People tend to forget the disgusting spectacle of a referendum on the Constitution while millions went without food and shelter following cyclone Nargis. Those trying to organize a No vote were harassed, arrested or beaten. The rigged referendum delivered an unbelievable result of "92 percent" in favour. Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, some still argue the 2010 elections could create a new political space.

The 2008 Nargis Constitution is a death sentence for ethnic diversity in Burma. Tadmadaw appointed commanders will control ethnic areas. There is no level of autonomy. The cultures and traditions are given no protection no rights to practice our customs, or to speak and teach our languages. The process of Myanmarnization that has already been going on for decades will be accelerated. Burma is descending into an even greater human rights and humanitarian crisis. The crisis is unfolding in front of everybody else. Escalating Tadmadaw attacks on ethnic people are leading to a major humanitarian crisis and creating regional instability. Besides the new constitution does not have a single article that offers protection of ethnic groups.

With the Tadmadaw continuing to dominate national-level politics, one should therefore look to the ethnic nationality parties as agents of progressive—albeit, modest—change in Burma. Whether they can succeed in this incremental approach will depend in large part on whether the Burmese Generals feels confident enough in his control of the political process to allow some concessions. The primary reason the Tatmadaw seeks ceasefire talk is to pave the way for the entire country to participate in Tatmadaw’s orchestrated elections. The government had hoped that by making a token attempt at democracy it can convince the West to ease the sanctions it's imposed on Burma and re-open economic relations and would accept the country in the community of civilized nations

The quasi civilian government is simply not interested in establishing a true democracy than in making a bid for international legitimacy and buying off dissent with cosmetic reforms. The Tadmadaw’s three-front war—against the pro-democracy movement, ethnic nationalities, and international opprobrium—could all be advanced, if only marginally, by a stamp of democratic legitimacy and recognition from the West.

No democracy has ever been built in a country without justice or accountability and with war criminals continuing to occupy top government offices including in the judiciary. No democracy has ever been built based on a constitution written by a criminal Tatmadaw to “legalize” their hold on power by guaranteeing the Tatmadawboth impunity from accountability for crimes and continued control over Burma’s natural resources and weapons development. Burma is not a “democracy in transition.” Nor can it be, until the constitution is revised by representatives who were fairly elected by the people of Burma. The constitution must ensure civilian control over the military and restore the legal competence of the civilian government to ensure Burma’s compliance with fundamental international law obligations, including those under the Geneva and Genocide Conventions and UN Charter.

Foreign governments are watching the situation in Burma carefully, waiting for some clear sign that it is ready to absorb the capital and know-how that it will need to make its long-awaited leap into modernity. But if Burma wants to attract this money and technology, it will have to show that it also has something to offer besides easily exploited resources—namely, guarantees that its government will act accountably and with respect for the rule of law.

While it is clear that some of the worst elements of the old regime are still alive and well, both in the cabinet and behind the scenes This may seem like wishful thinking, but at this decisive juncture in Burma’s political evolution, it will take nothing less than leaders of real vision to extricate the country from the trap set by its former rulers. And who better to do this than those who are intimately familiar with the mindset of Burma’s military dead-enders?

Minor constitutional changes may be considered by the parliament if 20% of MPs in both chambers submit a bill. However, a tangle of 104 clauses mean that major charter changes cannot be made without the prior approval of more than 75% of all MPs, after which a nationwide referendum must be held in which more than half of all eligible voters cast ballots. With 25% of seats allotted to the military, that leaves little power in the hands of elected representatives, whoever they might be. This complicated procedure, coupled with Burma’s record of holding bogus referendums- the first in 1973 for the 1974 constitution was as lacking in credibility as the one held in 2008 -make it virtually impossible to change those clauses, which in various ways and means legally safeguard the military’s now indirect hold on power. For instance, one of the first sections of the constitution guarantees the military’s “national political leadership role of the State” and, in case of an “emergency”, the “Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services has the right to take over and exercise State sovereign power” after consulting the president. “No legal action” can be taken against the military for what it does while exercising such emergency powers, according to the constitution.

While fighting and mediation efforts continue in Kachin State, sources with access to military insiders say that the central government refuses to accept that the KIA is representative of the Kachin people. They argue instead that the “elected” Kachin State government and its “chief minister”, Lajawn Ngan Seng, who was appointed after the rigged 2010 election swept by military-backed candidates, are the true democratic representatives of the Kachin State. From this perspective, the KIA must be co-opted into the system or wiped out militarily. The negotiations have led to the emergence of a new, younger generation of Kachin leaders who are more driven by political goals than commercial interests. The most charismatic of these new leaders is KIA vice chief of staff General Sumlut Gun Maw, a physics graduate from Mandalay University who joined the KIA in 1987, a year before the nationwide uprising for democracy. Many of his old classmates and contemporaries took part in that suppressed uprising, and Gun Maw has maintained throughout that a solution to the ethnic conflict and the struggle for democracy are equally important. On the other side of the coin is the fact that government appointed chief minister Lajawn Ngan Seng — who comes from a tiny minority of Buddhist Kachins —has been seen by many Kachins, 90% of whom are Christians, as a slight to local culture and sensitivities.

In essence, there are two fundamentally opposing views on how Burma’s ethnic question should be resolved. For the government, the solution to ethnic strife is for the rebels to lay down their arms under terms stipulated by central authorities. For ethnic rebels, hopes are that the ceasefire process, despite setbacks, will through negotiations eventually lead to the establishment of a federal union and more regional autonomy — while if negotiations fail, which seems likely, there will be more violent unrest in Burma’s ethnic areas. As Shan leader Sai Wansai argues, as long as the core problem, the controversial 2008 constitution, is not addressed, “it is hard to imagine that the ethnic conflicts within Burma could be resolved anytime soon.”

On the other hand, daily life is little changed in many of the ethnic states, with Tatmadaw domination everywhere and ethnic parties struggling to make their impact. Tatmadaw offensives, especially in the Kachin and Shan States, as well as communal violence in the Rakhine State, have caused many citizens to question the likely shape of the future of Burma. After decades of conflict, building trust and ethnic reconciliation will take time. The activities of ethnic parties in the national and regional parliaments are still at a very early stage. For the moment, there is no real cohesion between the national and regional legislatures and, at the state and region levels, much can depend on the chief ministers who are centrally appointed by the president. In addition, military commanders and the Ministry of Border Affairs still appear to exert the greatest authority in many ethnic areas.

In summary, Burma is now at a sensitive stage in its political transition. Under the Thein Sein government, encouraging prospects for the future have undoubtedly emerged. But reform is still at a very early stage, and there should be no underestimation of the difficult challenges that lie ahead. Ethnic conflict and Tatmadaw dominated government continue in many areas and, after decades of division, intensive efforts are still required to bring about an inclusive and lasting peace. A new parliamentary system is in place, but further attention will be needed on such issues as electoral, census, land tenure rights, education, investment and economic reform to guarantee the rights of all peoples. Independent institutions must also strive to grow in an environment where power and decision-making are often in the hands of small elites. And, as events move quickly, it is vital that all parts of the country are included. The history of state failure has long warned of the debilitating consequences of political and ethnic exclusions.

Federal Army, the Achilles’ Heels
The proposal of the federal army instead of the marauding Tatmadaw seems to be an arrow hitting Achilles’ heels. Since the Union of Burma came into being in 1948, the central administration has always use the Burmese army, now known as Tatmadaw to force the Myanmar colonialism over the Non-Myanmar, ethnic nationalities. Since Ne Win days the Burmese Army has amalgamated the Chin, Kachin, and Shan contingents and make it a Myanmar Tatmadaw with the Myanmar commanders and has used as a main instrument to implement its illogical policy. The Tatmadaw generals has used it as the Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the Non-Myanmar, the ethnic nationalities. Hence at the latest meeting between the government and the UNFC the Myanmar Generals were shocked at the proposal.

The creation of a federal army is viewed by the ethnic rebels as the only way to solve the thorny military issues that have arisen in ongoing peace negotiations with the central government, but its formation faces strong headwinds from an ethnic Myanmar military establishment that appears reluctant to embrace the idea.

Once the Federal Union of Burma with the Federal army came into being then their days are ended. The essence of federalism is sharing equally, the Myanmar never wants to share it with their ethnic brethren. They will find various pretext to overthrow this genuine federal union and who can say in order to perpetuate the Tatmadaw rule the National Defence Council may decide that it is far better to throw their lot with China vis a vis the West lead by US rather than lose their power and may resort to the tactics of Galon U Saw.

End Notes:

Than Shwe to Head Extra-Constitutional 'State Supreme Council The Irrawaddy 10-2-2011

See the 2008 Constitution.

SHAN Govt. source: Presidential qualifications ‘likely’ may not change S.H.A.N.2-1-2014

Zaw; Htet Naing, USDP Announces Surprise Constitutional Amendment Proposal, the Irrawaddy 32-12-2013

Support Grows in Burma for Constitutional Change, VOA 4-1-2014

NLD says that it will not boycott the elections. DVB 30-12-2013

See Not a Rubber Stamp: Myanmar’s Legislature in a Time of Transition Crisis Group Asia Briefing N°142, 13 -12- 2013

Burma protest seeks constitutional change, AP News 3-1-2014

Support Grows in Burma for Constitutional Change VOA 4-1-2014

Weng;Lawi, Thein Sein Says ‘a Healthy Constitution Must Be Amended The Irrawaddy 2-1-2014


Selene;Adam, How the Game Was Lost Irrawaddy 1-3-2012

Selene;Adam, How the Game Was Lost Irrawaddy 1-3-2012

Watson; Roland, Subvert Burma’s Election 6-1-2014

Zaw; Htet Naing, USDP Announces Surprise Constitutional Amendment Proposal, the Irrawaddy 32-12-2013

Perspective of Dr. Maung Zarni in several of his writings


Perspective of Dr. Maung Zarni

Za Ceu Lian, Salai; The Crux of the Ethnic Conflict in Asian Tribune 23-4-05

The thirteen ceasefire groups put up the proposal on June 9 2004, during national convention.

Htoo, Aung (DVB) Broadcast on the Constitution and the Ethnic Nationalities

Stepan Alfred; Rethinking Military Politics Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988: 55

Crouch; Melissa ,Will Myanmar's Soldiers Return to Barracks? East Asia Forum Asia Sentinel

Crouch; Melissa ,Will Myanmar's Soldiers Return to Barracks? East Asia Forum Asia Sentinel

Htoo, Aung (DVB) Constitution and the ethnic nationalities

Nyein; Susanne Prager; Expanding military, Shrinking citizenry and the New Constitution

Journal of Contemporary Asia Vol.39, No. 4, November 2009, pp.638-648.

Nyein; Susanne Prager; Expanding military, Shrinking citizenry and the New Constitution

Journal of Contemporary Asia Vol.39, No. 4, November 2009, pp.638-648.

Sein Zipporah. Burma's New Constitution: A Death Sentence for Ethnic Irrawaddy 13-10-09


Chin Siang Thang spokesperson of the United Nationalities Alliance

Benshof;Janet Why Tomas Quintana should change his tune by DVB News 16-8.2012


Lintner; Bertil, Burma Democracy 2012 Democracy and Dictatorship Asia Pacific Journal

Lintner; Bertil,Burma Democracy 2012 Democracy and Dictatorship Asia Pacific Journal

Currently there is an allout war in the Palaung Area of Northern Shan state between TNLA and Tatmadaw

Yan Naing;Saw,Govt. Armed Rebels Look Headed for Clash on Federal Army Issue The Irrawaddy 28-11-2013

- Asian Tribune -

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