UN chief to attend 21st-century Panglong Conference
UNITED Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend the opening ceremony of the 21st-century Panglong Conference on August 31, according to U Zaw Htay, deputy director general of the President’s Office.
“The United Nations has been supportive of the peace process of our country,” U Zaw Htay said in explaining the reasoning behind the government’s invitation to the UN chief.
The secretary general, whose term will expire at the end of this year, will also attend a state-hosted dinner, he added.
“We are inviting all diplomats, embassies, donors to the peace process and international organisations to attend the 21st-century Panglong Conference,” U Zaw Htay said.
Vijay Nambiar, the UN secretary general’s special adviser for Myanmar, who attended last month’s summit of ethnic armed organisations in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, said at the time that the United Nations would continue to support Myanmar in achieving internal peace by engaging with all concerned stakeholders.
Meanwhile, following protests by some politicians, a planned meeting of political parties that did not win any seats in last year’s election, scheduled to select representatives for five seats at the Panglong Conference table, was called off yesterday.
Members of about 30 political parties were left angry by a failure to address their grievances, chiefly that the seat allocation granted by the government was too small.
According to accounts from some of the aggrieved, the officer-in-charge at the NRPC said he did not have the authority to handle the complaint, but would “report the results of the meeting to his superiors”.
Although State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi previously said nonelection-winning parties would not have any representation at the Panglong Conference and should instead join a Civil Society Organisations’ Peace Forum to be held concurrently, the government later backtracked and said five seats would be reserved for the parties as “appropriate others”, a designation that has been granted 50 seats in total.
More than 1800 people are expected to attend the Panglong Conference in one capacity or another, according to peace negotiators.
In accordance with the texts of the nationwide ceasefire agreement and the political dialogue framework, political parties are recognised as a vested stakeholder afforded representation at the political dialogue. However, the two guiding documents for Myanmar’s peace process do not clearly state whether political parties that failed to win a single race in last year’s election fall within the terms.
At the Union Peace Conference held during the term of then-president U Thein Sein in January, all political parties were invited to the conference, given 150 seats to split among more than 90 registered political parties regardless of their electoral status. All told, more than 700 representatives attended that conference.
Since the non-winning political parties are officially registered in accordance with the law, they should be allowed to participate in the peace process “regardless of their size and election results”, read a statement released yesterday by some of the nonwinning parties, making the case that the conference marked an important event for the whole country.
“The intention of the meeting was to select five representatives on behalf of 70 political parties, who will not be allowed to participate as ‘representatives of political parties’, but as ‘appropriate individuals’. We strongly protest the plan, which is discriminatory,” said the statement.
In an apparent overture, government peace aides, after concluding a meeting with armed ethnic groups and election-winning political parties this week, said all chairpersons of non-election-winning political parties would be invited to the first day of the five-day conference in Nay Pyi Taw.
Saw Than Myint, a member of the Federal Union Party, said that was not enough, arguing that the government’s “five-seat plan” for non-election winning parties was “unfair” and “discriminatory”.
“We are also officially registered political parties. Will it be relevant if political parties are not allowed in the political dialogue and negotiation talks? It is unfair to exclude political parties from the Union Peace Conference,” he said.
Three ethnic Kayah political parties – the All Nationalities Democracy Party (Kayah State), the Kayah Unity Democracy Party and the Kayan National Party – on August 20 decided to reject a Panglong Conference invitation sent by the government, echoing accusations of discrimination.
Man Aung Pyi Soe, a senior official from the Phlone-Sqaw Democratic Party, said four Karen parties – his own, the Karen National Party, the Karen Democratic Party, and the Karen State Democracy and Development Party – have urged the government to allow the non-election-winning parties to attend the conference as “political parties” rather than “appropriate individuals” because the latter are not political entities.
He proposed another means of allocating representation for the 150 seats afforded to political parties, saying each registered political party - totalling 92 in all - should be given one seat, with the remaining 58 divided among election-winning parties.
Salai Ngai Sak, chair of the Chin League for Democracy, said the government’s plan has created controversy even among non-election-winning parties, about 70 of which are being told they will have to find a way to share just five seats.
“Each registered political party should be given a seat at the table,” he said.
But political commentator U Than Soe Naing said the representative framework of the Panglong Conference was already too sprawling to allow for genuine discussions among the various stakeholders.
“Losing the election means they do not have an electoral mandate. But here, it is not important if they are invited to the conference or not. Political parties should consider whether the conference is actually a place where the concerns they raise will be taken seriously,” he said.
He added, nonetheless, that the conference would be more than just political theatre because “no gathering in the past has been as considerably inclusive and big as the upcoming 21stcentury Panglong”.
With non-winning political parties continuing to cry foul, the seat-sharing arrangement for the 22 election-winning parties has already been made, with each party given seven seats.
“I think it is fair because a party that only won one seat in the election would still have seven seats at the table. We want equality among the election-winning parties,” said U Tun Tun Hein, a National League for Democracy official.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is meeting with the ethnic armed group signatories to the NCA in Nay Pyi Taw today.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attends the East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw in November 2014.