Analysis of state counselor’s speech during the 4th anniversary of NCA celebration
Salai Ceu Bik Thawng
It was rather surprising that the State Counselor suddenly chose her speech at this year’s commemoration of the 4th anniversary of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement to highlight the importance of ensuring equality and self-determination for the ethnic peoples. She spoke about the subject of the need to have a system of division of power in line with federal principles; natural resource sharing among the different states and the issue of the states having their own sets of state constitutions. This was a welcoming and admirable gesture towards the ethnic nationalities especially coming from a Bumar leader such as herself. Having said this, let’s have a quick and closer look at some of the points that she made in what essentially is a policy speech.
- On the issue of natural resource sharing among the states, the announcement is somewhat redundant as the NLD already had it in its 2015 election manifesto. Only they haven’t done anything about it in the last three years that they have been in power. Even if the NLD is not ready to immediately accept the demands of the ethnic states whose preference is something along the lines of the Indonesia model where the federal government gets 30 percent and the states keep 70 percent share of revenue, they should be in a position to readily accord the states at least 40 percent. This doesn’t not require constitutional amendment to make it a reality. Now is no longer the time for empty rhetoric but a time for concrete action.
- Indeed there are much that can be done for the ethnic people without having to change the constitution if the NLD government is genuinely committed to ensuring ethnic equality and federalism. Incorporating ethnic language in basic education system is one such area.
- A true indication of the NLD being genuinely committed to ethnic self-determination, separate state constitutions and equitable resource sharing would have been for the NLD to include them in their proposed constitutional amendment package recommended by their 45-member special committee. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from including these demands, nothing in the 144 amendment items proposed by the NLD contain a single subject relating to ethnic concerns. The fact of the matter is all that the ethnic people demand for is only constitutional guarantee of those points in question.
- The State Counselor also said that the NLD has accepted these three points ‘in principle.’ This is reminiscent of what happened during the negotiation of section 5 of the Panglong Agreement – perhaps the most important point in the agreement – where her father General Aung San also basically accepted the question of internal self-determination/autonomy in ‘principle.’ In the Burmese political context the phrase ‘accepted in principle’ essentially means “Not fully agreed and therefore in need of further discussion.” Some experts have even interpreted the phrase as “Something one cannot yet agree to.”
Summary of Analysis
The State Counselor’s policy announcement does represent a step in the right direction towards the achievement of future federal union. One must, however, be every vigilant of each step being taken towards that end. The announcement in itself is not something to be celebrated with joy. In South Africa for example, the constitution provides for the right of the states to write their own constitutions but the majority of all the states have not written it. The reason is that those states that have written their own constitutions have complained about undue restrictions and interference being imposed on them by the federal government causing great reluctance from the rest of the remaining states to follow suit. Another reason the remaining states have not written their own state constitutions is because nearly all the possible powers of the states have already been enumerated in the federal constitution. So it is not just enough to have the right to craft your own constitution. What kind of substantive issues need to be included in the state constitution have to be negotiated and agreed on first.
We have gone past the period for empty rhetoric and fine-tuned pre-electoral messages. It is time for the NLD to put their words into practice and tangible action. They must be ready to concretely lay out practical plans to deal with the nuts and bolts of how to entrench federal principles in the constitution. That is of the utmost importance at this point. An ideal scenario would be if and when the NLD could really empathetically take it upon themselves and champion the cause of the ethnic nationalities. We still have time to wait and see what will really happen in the one year that remains in their current term in office. After all, all we can do for the time being is wish them all our best.
Translated into English by Salai Za Uk Ling