The pit­falls of rush­ing the peace process

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - By Hans Hulst

After more than three years and a dozen meet­ings the Union Peace-Mak­ing Work Com­mit­tee and the Na­tion­wide Cease­fire Co-or­di­na­tion Team an­nounced after their talks in Au­gust the pledge to adopt a fed­eral sys­tem, a key de­mand of the eth­nic mi­nori­ties, has been in­cluded in the draft text of the na­tional peace ac­cord.

Chief gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tor U Aung Min, a Min­is­ter of the Pres­i­dent's Of­fice, seems hope­ful that a cease­fire agree­ment will be reached by the end of Septem­ber, with po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue start­ing in early 2015. The min­is­ter is bent on wrap­ping up the com­pli­cated peace process be­fore the gen­eral elec­tions.

Is it wise to hurry the peace process past the fin­ish post?

There are lessons to be learned from the at­tempt to in­tro­duce a fed­eral sys­tem in Nepal. The Hi­malayan coun­try, as eth­ni­cally di­verse as Myan­mar with more than 100 mi­nor­ity groups, had suf­fered a decade of civil war when the push for fed­er­al­ism be­gan in 2008. A con­stituent assem­bly was es­tab­lished, dead­lines came and went and the ul­ti­mate fail­ure to reach an agree­ment on ex­actly which type of fed­eral sys­tem to adopt led to fresh elec­tions, the for­ma­tion of a new con­stituent assem­bly, and the en­try into the po­lit­i­cal arena of new par­ties with un­de­vel­oped thoughts about fed­er­al­ism. The older par­ties were by then en­trenched in fixed po­si­tions, which fur­ther com­pli­cated an al­ready com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion.

Nepal went back to square one. Six years after the start of the push for fed­er­al­ism the dead­lock per­sists. Prime Min­is­ter Sushil Koirala is op­posed to us­ing eth­nic­ity as the ba­sis for a fed­eral state while the Maoists of the Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal want each main eth­nic group to have its own fed­eral re­gion. The Maoists are now ac­cus­ing other par­ties of not be­ing gen­uine in their quest for fed­er­al­ism. Will it ever end?

Myan­mar is in for a dif­fi­cult ride as well. The eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups that are at the ta­ble dur­ing the po­lit­i­cal

di­a­logue phase will have dif­fer­ing per­cep­tions of what fed­er­al­ism means and which ver­sion is suit­able for their needs. That fed­er­al­ism has been de­clared ac­cept­able by the gov­ern­ment and the Tat­madaw does not nec­es­sar­ily mean their vi­sion of a fed­eral Union of Myan­mar matches that of the mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups. Fed­er­al­ism is a com­plex and thorny is­sue. It en­com­passes im­por­tant is­sues such as re­source shar­ing, de­fence and po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy. Fed­er­al­ism can mean many dif­fer­ent things. Some within the Myan­mar Peace Cen­ter, an or­gan­i­sa­tion which re­lies mostly on the EU for its fund­ing and which plays a cen­tral role in the peace process, have pro­fessed it un­wise to sign a na­tional cease­fire agree­ment and hurry on to the di­a­logue phase next year. Th­ese sources feel that a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue pur­sued dur­ing what prom­ises to be a volatile elec­tion cam­paign pe­riod will do more harm than good. The di­a­logue should not start in earnest un­til 2016, they say.

The USDP, though, seems ea­ger to pro­duce a re­sult be­fore the gen­eral elec­tions, so it can cre­ate a sce­nario in which it could run as the party that fi­nally paci­fied Myan­mar. It is well aware that for now it is still largely in con­trol of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem but that after the elec­tions the power bal­ance might shift and the com­plex­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions will in­crease.

The lat­est cease­fire draft might run for seven chap­ters and con­tain one hun­dred and twenty points, but most of the po­lit­i­cal is­sues are still un­re­solved. Those who think peace ac­cords are eas­ily agreed and im­ple­mented and the trans­for­ma­tion to a truly fed­eral state can be hur­ried in a few years, are delu­sional. For­mu­lat­ing dead­lines will only serve to set up the process for fail­ure and dis­il­lu­sion. The stakes are high, ut­most care should be taken. If di­a­logue fails to de­liver the po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion the mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups are seek­ing Myan­mar will be back to a po­si­tion rem­i­nis­cent of that at the end of the for­ties, when the eth­nic in­sur­gen­cies started.

True fed­er­al­ism is pos­si­ble, even in a coun­try as eth­ni­cally di­verse as Myan­mar, but it will take time, ef­fort and pa­tience to achieve. Peace agree­ments are hard won. Reach­ing a po­lit­i­cally sat­is­fy­ing fed­eral so­lu­tion ac­cept­able to all stake­hold­ers will prove equally as hard.

Left: A Kayin State vil­lage, in an un­dated file photo. Eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups have dif­fer­ing pe­cep­tions of what fed­er­al­ism will mean for them. Photo: Mizzima

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