Power trans­fer con­firmed but squab­bling on po­lit­i­cal div­i­dend might have just be­gun

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Sai Wan­sai

In the af­ter­math of the elec­tions, the is­sue of po­lit­i­cal power tran­si­tion from the quasi-civil­ian Thein Sein regime to the land­slide win­ning, Aung San Suu Kyi and her Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing has been dom­i­nat­ing the Burma’s po­lit­i­cal arena, punc­tu­ated in­ter­mit­tently with news of armed eth­nic con­flict, hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and the trou­bled gov­ern­ment-ini­ti­ated na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment (NCA) process, which is duly in need of pub­lic en­dorse­ment and le­git­i­macy in a broad sense.

How­ever, the most talked about news in be­tween is the meet­ing of Aung San Suu Kyi and Se­nior-Gen­eral Than Shwe, who is re­tired but still an in­flu­en­tial fa­ther fig­ure within the gov­ern­ment as well the mil­i­tary.

Power trans­fer

First, let’s look at the lat­est de­vel­op­ment of the po­lit­i­cal power trans­fer. On 2 De­cem­ber, both Pres­i­dent Thein Sein and Com­man­der-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing met Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypy­itaw, in meet­ings de­scribed as pro­duc­tive and cor­dial, ac­cord­ing to U Ye Htut, the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter.

While no­body is doubt­ful that the meet­ing at­mos­phere is friendly and cor­dial, par­tic­u­larly seen from the video clips of Min Aung Hlaing beam­ing while re­ceiv­ing Aung San Suu Kyi and per­son­ally see­ing her out af­ter the meet­ing, the pro­duc­tiv­ity and pri­or­ity set­ting of cru­cial po­lit­i­cal points con­cerned with the tran­si­tion are less clear, as ne­go­ti­at­ing par­ties have yet to make the con­tent of the talks pub­lic.

In­deed, the lack of trans­parency re­gard­ing the meet­ing has irked the me­dia and the peo­ple at large, but the NLD side rea­soned that dur­ing this pre­car­i­ous tran­si­tion pe­riod, it is han­dling the sit­u­a­tion with a knit­ted gloves.

Thus, suf­fice to say from the Pres­i­dent’s per­spec­tive that power trans­fer will definitely hap­pen and it will seal his re­form process as a “fi­nal vic­tory”, which he had ini­ti­ated in 2011.

“Both lead­ers dis­cussed the smooth and peace­ful trans­fer of power, to relieve pub­lic con­cerns over the tran­si­tion,” Ye Htut, the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, said, adding that Thein Sein had “al­ready told the world and per­son­ally promised” that he would work to­wards such a goal.

“Dur­ing the meet­ing, our pres­i­dent high­lighted the need for a tra­di­tion of peace­ful power trans­fer from an elected gov­ern­ment to the next elected gov­ern­ment, which we have never had in place since Myan­mar’s in­de­pen­dence” – an ob­jec­tive Aung San Suu Kyi agreed with, he said.

In the same vein, elab­o­rat­ing to the me­dia as he de­parted from his one-hour, closed-door dis­cus­sion with the NLD leader, Min Aung Hlaing said the two had “agreed to co­op­er­ate in the in­ter­est of the coun­try,” adding that their meet­ing had “yielded pos­i­tive re­sults.”

A press state­ment re­leased by the of­fice of the com­man­der in chief shortly af­ter the two met said they had “agreed to work to­gether for peace and sta­bil­ity, the rule of law and the de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try, in ac­cor­dance with the peo­ple’s wishes.”

The re­cent meet­ing be­tween Se­nior-Gen­eral Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi, in which the for­mer ex­plic­itly en­dorsed and praised her as the fu­ture leader of the coun­try – a far cry from the po­si­tion he had taken to con­tain Suu Kyi for decades when he was in power – also plays an en­sur­ing role that the ex-strong­man, who is very much a fa­ther fig­ure of the mil­i­tary, is will­ing to com­ply with the peo­ple’s wishes that have been de­nied for so long.

In other words, the loud and clear mes­sage of this meet­ing on 4 De­cem­ber is that the mil­i­tary (Tat­madaw) would co­op­er­ate and won’t be a spoiler this time like in 1990, where the po­lit­i­cal power trans­fer is con­cerned.

Armed eth­nic con­flict

The war in Shan and Kachin states con­tin­ued on and off, be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the gen­eral elec­tions.

The sum­mary of the armed con­flict sit­u­a­tion for Novem­ber in Shan and Kachin states is doc­u­mented by Al­ter­na­tive Asean’s Burma Bul­letin as fol­lows:

The day af­ter the 8 Novem­ber elec­tions, the Tat­madaw re­sumed of­fen­sives against the Shan State Army-North/Shan State Pro­gres­sive Party (SSA-N/SSPP) in cen­tral Shan State, which have been in­creas­ing in in­ten­sity since 6 Oc­to­ber. On 9 and 10 Novem­ber, the Tat­madaw at­tacked the SSA-N/ SSPP head­quar­ters at Wan Hai Vil­lage, Kh­esi Town­ship, Shan State, with three he­li­copters, two fighter jets, and heavy ar­tillery. Fight­ing also broke out in Monghsu Town­ship and Kh­esi’s Mong­nawng sub-town­ship. He­li­copters sent by Op­er­a­tion Com­mand No. 2 (Za Ka Ka) at­tacked a nearby IDP camp on 10 Novem­ber.

Dur­ing 16-18 Novem­ber the Tat­madaw re­in­forced its ground as­sault on Wan Hai in tan­dem with aerial at­tacks by six he­li­copters and two fighter jets. Lt Col Sai La told press on 18 Novem­ber that the Tat­madaw had at­tacked SSA-N po­si­tions “about ev­ery two days since 29 Oc­to­ber,” when they had be­gun aerial bomb­ing and straf­ing cam­paigns.

From 19-24 Novem­ber, the SSA-N/SSPP sent var­i­ous del­e­ga­tions to Naypy­itaw and Yan­gon to ne­go­ti­ate tem­po­rary cease­fires. Six points were agreed upon by both sides by 24 Novem­ber, in­clud­ing a ces­sa­tion of hos­til­i­ties, troop ro­ta­tions, and co­op­er­a­tive re­set­tle­ment of IDPs, though the terms must be fi­nal­ized by se­nior mem­bers of the SSPP.

On 7 and 8 De­cem­ber, Union Peace-making Work­ing Com­mit­tee (UPWC) and the SSPP again met in Naypy­itaw, but said to be struck at the point of Tat­madaw’s in­sis­tence that Shan troops moved up to the north of the Monghsu-Mongn­wang mo­tor­way, which they said is im­pos­si­ble as it has been their set­tle­ment ar­eas since decades, if not im­memo­rial.

Dur­ing 14-16 Novem­ber, the Tat­madaw un­leashed heavy ar­tillery and bomb­ing cam­paigns on Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA) po­si­tions close to the town of Mohnyin, Kachin State, in what KIA leader Na Lan called the “fiercest in the history of fight­ing be­tween the Burmese army and KIA.” On 19 Novem­ber, In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Ye Htut jus­ti­fied the Tat­madaw at­tacks on the KIA in Mohnyin Town­ship as cru­cial for pub­lic safety and said the gov­ern­ment does not in­tend to end them.

Com­pli­cat­ing the al­ready pre­car­i­ous eth­nic con­flict pat­tern, Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army (TNLA) and Restora­tion Coun­cil of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) clashed be­tween 27 – 30 Novem­ber.

At least four bat­tles broke out in an area be­tween the towns of Namhkam and Mong­ton in north­ern Shan State, with ca­su­al­ties sus­tained by both sides, ac­cord­ing to each army. The TNLA said that Burmese army troops had fought along­side the SSA-S.

The SSA-S, while re­ject­ing the ac­cu­sa­tion that Burmese troops were in­volved, re­turned the blame. Spokesper­son Col. Sai La told DVB that the TNLA launched an am­bush while their troops were re­turn­ing to Namtu from the SSA-S head­quar­ters in Loi Tai Leng, in the south of the state.

“Our troops were am­bushed by the TNLA on the way back from at­tend­ing a train­ing course on poli­cies and the Na­tion­wide Cease­fire Agree­ment. Three of us were killed and five oth­ers were in­jured – with two re­main­ing in the se­ri­ous con­di­tion. The TNLA re­leased a re­port claim­ing they also ab­ducted and ex­e­cuted three vil­lagers in Namhkam who they be­lieved helped our troops. They pub­lished pho­tos of the dead men with their hands tied but we have not yet been able to iden­tify them,” said Col. Sai La.

US on mil­i­tary atroc­i­ties

On 4 De­cem­ber, the United States called for a cred­i­ble, in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Burma‘s gov­ern­ment of re­ports of mil­i­tary atroc­i­ties in Shan State, say­ing they were rep­re­hen­si­ble, if true.

Some 12 Shan com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tions, spear­headed by the Shan Hu­man Rights Foun­da­tion, ac­cused the Tat­madaw last week of bomb­ing schools and Bud­dhist tem­ples, fir­ing on civil­ians and rape dur­ing an of­fen­sive against SSA-N/SSPP that has up­rooted more than 10,000 peo­ple. The activists claimed that the Burmese mil­i­tary has shelled six vil­lages, shot and in­jured three peo­ple, and fired on 17 vil­lagers who are now miss­ing, since 6 Oc­to­ber.

The Shan Hu­man Rights Foun­da­tion said it had doc­u­mented eight cases of sex­ual violence since April 2015, in­clud­ing a 32-year-old woman gang-raped by 10 sol­diers on 5 Nov while her hus­band was tied up un­der their farm hut in Kh­esi Town­ship.

“We are con­cerned by re­ports of Burmese mil­i­tary atroc­i­ties, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions of in­dis­crim­i­nate at­tacks on civil­ian pop­u­la­tions and in­fra­struc­ture, rape, and other acts of sex­ual violence,” said Ka­t­rina Adams, a spokes­woman for the US State Depart­ment.

She urged the regime to un­der­take a cred­i­ble, in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions, and to hold per­pe­tra­tors ac­count­able for their ac­tions. How­ever, to date whether the Thein Sein gov­ern­ment has re­sponded to her re­quest is still not known.

NCA up­date

The Thein Sein gov­ern­ment is more of a me­di­a­tor in the ne­go­ti­a­tion process be­tween the eth­nic armed or­ga­ni­za­tions (EAOs) and the Tat­madaw, rather than the ac­tual key ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ner with the EAOs, for it could do noth­ing with­out its agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to Si Thu Aung Myint, a well known po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor.

A four-step road map was agreed to be­tween ne­go­tia­tors: the sign­ing of NCA, draw­ing a frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue (FPD), con­ven­ing a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue (PD) and agree­ing upon a Union Ac­cord that in turn would be en­dorsed by

the Par­lia­ment.

The NCA struc­ture is again di­vided into a Joint Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee (JMC) that is to oversee the mil­i­tary code of con­duct (CoC) and de­mar­ca­tion zones, while the Union Po­lit­i­cal Di­a­logue Joint Com­mit­tee (UPDJC) is to draw up FPD, get ap­proval from a Joint Im­ple­men­ta­tion Co­or­di­na­tion Meet­ing (JIMC) – the high­est level in the NCA setup – and con­ven­ing a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue lead­ing to the at­tain­ment of a Union Ac­cord.

The JMC is less prob­lem­atic as it in­volved mil­i­tary mat­ters and only the EAOs and the Tat­madaw, while the UPDJC has three com­po­nents - EAOs, regime and the po­lit­i­cal par­ties, each with 16 rep­re­sen­ta­tives, 48 al­to­gether.

Here again the EAOs and the regime roe is quite clear, if only the re­cently signed eight EAOs are taken into ac­count, al­though the choos­ing of the 16 po­lit­i­cal par­ties rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­comes a big prob­lem be­tween po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

NLD does not agree to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the un­elected par­ties, but U Aung Min and UPWC went on with their orig­i­nal plan of in­clud­ing eight un­elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, giv­ing two rep­re­sen­ta­tives each for the NLD and UPWC; and the rest to some re­cently elected par­ties.

The Pres­i­dent in his re­cent mes­sage to the peo­ple on 4 De­cem­ber also re­it­er­ated that the FPD will be drawn by the con­tro­ver­sially elected UPDJC, which even­tu­ally was ap­proved by the union Par­lia­ment on 8 De­cem­ber, amid protest by NLD’s MPs and eth­nic rep­re­sen­ta­tives within the Par­lia­ment.

It should en­trust NLD with the job but if it goes on as it is moulded by U Aung Min and com­pany, the NCA process will be­come prob­lem­atic, with­out ma­jor EAOs sign­ing and the NLD only par­tic­i­pat­ing as an ob­server, ac­cord­ing to Si Thu Aung Myint.

Ac­cord­ing to The Global New Light of Myan­mar, on 3 De­cem­ber, non-sig­na­tory cease­fire groups have been in­vited to at­tend a meet­ing to ap­prove the draft po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue frame­work slated for 14-15 De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son of eth­nic sig­na­to­ries.

But the over­tures would like- ly be ig­nored, at least dur­ing the leg­isla­tive pe­riod of the Thein Sein regime. The mostly non-sig­na­to­ries of the re­cent NCA, United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Coun­cil (UNFC) meet­ing in Chaing Mai has in­di­cated that it prefers to ne­go­ti­ate with the in­com­ing NLD gov­ern­ment, in an all-in­clu­sive set­ting.

Wrap up and out­look

Re­gard­ing the power trans­fer, the two cor­dial meet­ings with the Pres­i­dent and Com­man­der-in-Chief were as­sur­ance that it would take place. The meet­ing with the Se­nior-Gen­eral Than Shwe, the ar­chi­tect of the 2008 mil­i­tary-drafted con­sti­tu­tion, but­tresses that the whole mil­i­tary bloc would co­op­er­ate and ac­com­mo­date, at least where the regime change is con­cerned.

As there have been no pub­lic clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the three meet­ings, an­a­lysts spec­u­lated that the talks could be a give-and-take deal of waiv­ing the bar­rier of Sec­tion 59(f), which bars Suu Kyi from be­com­ing pres­i­dent, apart from the in­clu­sion of the de­feated Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party (USDP) mem­bers in the fu­ture NLD-led regime, with guar­an­tees of no ret­ri­bu­tion on hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions for serv­ing as for­mer gen­er­als.

Other than that, the Tat­madaw might also de­mand that a fu­ture peace deal with the EAOs should cen­ter on the coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity that could be trans­lated to the United Wa State Army’s (UWSA) “a state within a state”, not yield­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s sov­er­eign power po­lit­i­cal pos­ture and ex­clud­ing the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army (MNDAA) in the all-in­clu­sive NCA deal, for its loss of face to dis­lodge the rene­gade army from Kokang ter­ri­tory, aside from suf­fer­ing a heavy hu­man toll, said to be in the hun­dreds, dur­ing the con­flict in Fe­bru­ary 2015 and a few months that fol­lowed. On top of that, the Tat­madaw con­sid­ers the MNDAA and as well the UWSA as for­eign prox­ies, even though it has only hinted that view on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and never di­rectly men­tioned it as such.

The war in cen­tral Shan State is said to have less­ened, even though clashes be­tween the SSPP/SSA-S and gov­ern­ment troops broke out again in Moe­maik, north­ern Shan State, on Novem­ber 28, forc­ing lo­cals to flee their homes. The clashes that lasted for one hour left two SSA-S per­son­nel dead, while there have also been ca­su­al­ties on the gov­ern­ment side.

The cease­fire talks be­tween the SSPP and UPWC on 7 and 8 De­cem­ber, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing the is­sue of de­mar­ca­tion – the de­mand of the mil­i­tary that SSA-N troops moved to the north­ern part of the Monghsu-Mongn­wang mo­tor­way – still could not be agreed and re­solved, at this writ­ing. Thus it is likely that the war could re­sume in cen­tral Shan State, if the Tat­madaw chooses to do so for any rea­son.

Re­gard­ing the con­flict be­tween the TNLA and RCSS/SSA-S, the lat­ter said that it prefers to solve the prob­lem through ne­go­ti­a­tion, but no con­crete pro­posal has been made so far. The clashes are due to the ar­gu­ment over ter­ri­to­rial own­er­ship, with the TNLA ac­cus­ing the SSA-S of tres­pass­ing into its ter­ri­tory and fight­ing with the help of the Tat­madaw, which was cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied.

The fu­ture of con­ven­ing po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue as formulated by the UPDJC is gear­ing up to start dur­ing the ten­ure of the Thein Sein regime. But whether the in­com­ing NLD gov­ern­ment would hon­our it and con­tinue as it is with the process is an open ques­tion, as the NLD has openly said it will be led by Aung San Suu Kyi and would carry on with the points that are good and make changes where nec­es­sary.

To sum up the re­cent po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, it could be con­cluded that the po­lit­i­cal power trans­fer will hap­pen as promised by the mil­i­tary clique, but on how the na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion gov­ern­ment would be formed and a Con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to pave the way for Suu Kyi to be­come pres­i­dent are two cru­cial is­sues, which the movers and shak­ers of the coun­try will have to de­ter­mine in the short­term, to be able to make link­age and con­nec­tion to a long-term, vi­able goal of na­tional unity and a fed­eral form of gov­ern­ment in a true sense.

Photo: Mizzima

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