Mai Ja Yang summit tackles structure of federal Union
Participants in the conference of major ethnic armed groups argued yesterday for eschewing the state and region system in favour of switching to all states, defined by majority ethnic groupings.
HYPOTHESISED state divisions that should make up the federal Union yesterday dominated discussions at the second day of the Mai Ja Yang summit, a major gathering of ethnic armed groups in Kachin State.
Participants seemed to agree that state lines should be demarcated by major ethnic groupings.
“For example, in Shan State, Shan are the dominant and largest population. So the state should be regarded as the Shan National State,” said U Oo Hla Saw, who is attending the Mai Ja Yang summit as a representative of the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation, an alliance of ethnic political parties.
While the country’s current seven states – Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan – should be kept unchanged as states of specific nationals, the other seven regions should be changed so they are also “states of nationalities”, according to the participants.
“The assumption is that in Ayeyarwady Region, ethnic Kayin, Mon, Bamar and Rakhine comprised the largest share of the population. So the region should be regarded as a national state because we cannot rank it as a Mon or a Shan or a Rakhine State alone,” said Daw Saw Mra Razar Lin, a central executive committee of the Arakan Liberation Party. “This is the kind of outlook that should be underlying the future federal Union,” she said.
Concerning the Bamar majority, Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of the Karen National Union, said there should be a Bamar state. One suggestion was that two regions, Tanintharyi and Ayeyarwady, could become the Bamar states.
“For example, in Tanintharyi, there is no majority ethnic group in the region. There are Dawei, Bamar, Mon and Kayin. Since there are many ethnic groups, the state should be called ‘Tanintharyi State of Nationalities’,” said Naing Han Thar, deputy leader of the United Nationalities Federal Council and a senior official of the New Mon State Party.
Participants said the current “mixup” of some states and some regions was confusing, and so the federal Union, much promised by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, should be a more uniform collection of states.
The eight-state principle – dubbed as such for the plan to divide the country into eight states based on the Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan ethnicities – springs from Bogyoke Aung San’s promise to ethnic leaders of “frontier areas” while he was trying to unify the country’s ethnic groups ahead of independence.
To secure the assistance of the ethnic leaders, Bogyoke Aung San once famously said, “If a Bamar receives one kyat, you will also receive one kyat.”
Political commentators viewed the idea put forward yesterday as “quite impractical”.
U Oo Hla Saw said some participants expressed their concerns and dissent on the idea, saying the discussions were just considerations for the future.
The summit participants also discussed characteristics they see as essential for a future federal Union, including sovereignty, equality, self-determination, protection of ethnic minority groups’ rights, democratic and human rights, and gender equality.
Many participants agreed that the state legislatures should be given absolute autonomy, according to Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win.
“Many people agreed that states should have their own constitutions. They should also have the right to determine their path for themselves. States should be granted the independence to enact laws suitable for them,” he said.
Speaking yesterday, Pado Naw Zipporah Sein, Karen National Union vice chair, said a draft of the form of a federal Union had been drawn up for submission and review. “We can exchange views and reach consensus on the basic federal principles for the future building of a federal democratic Union drawn up by the Federal Constitution Drafting and Coordinating Committee [FCDCC] and the proposals made by the United Nationalities Federal Council in 2015,” she said.
She also said that some armed ethnic organisations’ goals of signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement and attending the political dialogue had not been met. “Contrary to the principles set forth at the Laiza and Law Khee Lar summits, the previous government discriminated against some ethnic armed organisations and fighting has persisted,” she said.
The delay hampered the ethnic armed organisations’ strides toward unity, she said. Despite the armed groups’ position that all groups should be allowed to join the NCA, only 15 groups were invited to the signing last year, excluding some groups actually fighting the Tatmadaw.
Ethnic armed groups who had signed last October’s NCA, as well as those that did not sign, are attending the Mai Ja Yang summit, along with civil society organisations and political parties. The aim of the meeting is to prepare for the 21st-century Panglong Conference and to find common ground for a future federal Union. The summit will run through July 29.
Leaders and representatives of various ethnic armed groups gather for the four-day summit in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, yesterday.