Con­cep­tual dif­fer­ence on fed­er­al­ism: The case of Burma or Myan­mar

Mizzima Business Weekly - - IN FOCUS - Sai Wan­sai

Many may have lost track re­gard­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of a fed­eral union and its for­mu­la­tion. How­ever, the Eth­nic Na­tion­al­i­ties Af­fairs Cen­ter (ENAC) has out­lined eleven-themes, in­clud­ing health, ed­u­ca­tion, land rights, nat­u­ral re­sources, agri­cul­ture, in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons, hu­man­i­tar­ian law, tax­a­tion, trad­ing and in­vest­ment, and forestry and en­vi­ron­ment that need to be taken into ac­count. The doc­u­ment, how­ever, ex­cludes po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity is­sues. Zo Tum Hmung, di­rec­tor of ENAC, said: “You can­not just say we will give you a fed­eral sys­tem be­cause that is very gen­eral.” Ear­lier, the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Council (UNFC) is­sued a state­ment say­ing the main ter­mi­no­log­i­cal ob­sta­cle to them sign­ing the Na­tion­wide Cease­fire Agree­ment (NCA) was the us­age of the words “fed­eral demo­cratic union” pre­ferred by them and “a union based on the prin­ci­ples of democ­racy and fed­er­al­ism”, adopted by the gov­ern­ment. Type of fed­er­al­ism and stake­hold­ers


The Tat­madaw dur­ing the first Union Peace Conference - 21st Cen­tury Pan­g­long (UPC-21CP) un­der the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) gov­ern­ment on 31 Au­gust – 4 September 2016, made known it con­sid­ered the mil­i­tary-drafted 2008 con­sti­tu­tion as hav­ing fea­tures to be turned into a fed­eral union sys­tem of gov­er­nance. Its rep­re­sen­ta­tive ar­gued that the bi­cam­eral House of Na­tion­al­i­ties and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, plus 14 States and Re­gions par­lia­ments are the hall­mark of fed­er­al­ism, which is em­bed­ded in its self-drawn con­sti­tu­tion. Fur­ther­more, it pointed out that the sep­a­ra­tion, checks and bal­ances of leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial pow­ers are con­ducive to the for­ma­tion of a fed­eral union. Like­wise, it also pro­jected the cen­tral role of the union gov­ern­ment on tax­a­tion, re­sources man­age­ment and the econ­omy as a whole, and not in a give­and-take con­sul­ta­tive man­ner.


The NLD has not con­cretely com­mit­ted it­self to any form of fed­er­al­ism, ex­cept gen­er­ally men­tion­ing the need for po­lit­i­cal power di­vided between the fed­eral and states. Dr Tin Myo Win, top NLD peace ne­go­tia­tor, dur­ing the first 21CPC, out­lined that his party is keen to achieve var­i­ous power-shar­ing lev­els in the for­mu­la­tion of a fed­eral union. His state­ment men­tioned a con­fed­er­a­tion between fed­eral sys­tems of gov­er­nance, call­ing the for­mer “com­ing to­gether” and the lat­ter, “hold­ing to­gether”. Ac­cord­ingly, he is for asym­met­ri­cal fed­er­al­ism, some­what like In­dia, with fed­eral and states in­vested with self-rule and shared-rule for all. But he seems to be ad­vo­cat­ing for more em­pow­er­ment at fed­eral-level rather than in the states.

The EAOs and EPPs

The eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties – EAOs and the Eth­nic Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties (EPPs) - have ral­lied around the Pan­g­long Agree­ment of 1947 and have drawn heav­ily on The Con­sti­tu­tion of the Fed­eral Re­pub­lic of the Union of Burma (Sec­ond Draft) drawn by Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion Draft­ing and Co­or­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, which was adopted on 12 Fe­bru­ary 2008 by the then eth­nic armed groups’ al­liance. This, in turn, has been taken over by the UNFC and the UNA as their guide­lines. It should be noted that the 2008 fed­eral con­sti­tu­tion made use of historical facts from 1947 Union of Burma Con­sti­tu­tion and 1961 eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties’ Fed­eral Pro­posal to amend the 1947 Con­sti­tu­tion.

Sur­pris­ingly enough, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which hith­erto has been stay­ing out of the peace process joined the en­dorse­ment of Pan­g­long Agree­ment-based rights of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and fed­eral union de­mand pro­posed two years back and of­fi­cially at the first 21CPC in 2016. Its po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion pro­posal started out as an in­di­vid­ual group and later with mi­nor in­no­va­tion as an al­liance un­der the Fed­eral Po­lit­i­cal Ne­go­ti­a­tion and Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee (FPNCC). How­ever, the al­liance out­look re­sem­bles more of a con­fed­er­acy than a fed­er­a­tion. The fifth EAOs Ple­nary Meet­ing in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (KIO) con­trolled town near the Chi­nese bor­der, took place from 26 to 30 July 2016. The most out­stand­ing point of dis­cus­sion was the pro­posal of “na­tional” state and “na­tion­al­i­ties” states, rather than just ac­cept­ing the 14 States and Re­gions un­der the present mil­i­tary-drafted con­stitu-

tion. Hy­po­thet­i­cally, for ex­am­ple, a Ba­mar State could be carved out from Man­dalay, Mag­way and Bago Re­gions, while Yan­gon (Ran­goon), Aye­yarwady (Ir­rawaddy), Taninthary­i (Te­nasserim) and Sa­gaing Re­gions could be­come na­tion­al­i­ties states as they are pop­u­lated with var­i­ous eth­nic groups, be­sides Ba­mar. Out­look and per­spec­tive

To sum up, while all es­sen­tial stake­hold­ers are not in dis­pute of the ne­ces­sity to form a fed­eral union; po­lit­i­cal power-shar­ing; checks-and­bal­ances of the three in­sti­tu­tions of leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial; and a sec­u­lar state, there re­main some dis­agree­ments, in­clud­ing: Uni­tary or fed­er­al­ism • Ter­ri­to­rial or eth­nic-based con­fig­u­ra­tion • Pan­g­long Agree­ment-based or an en­tirely new agree­ment • The present Ba­mar-dom­i­nated army or a fed­eral army

Look­ing at the Mil­i­tary, Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party (USDP) and NLD state­ments, one could as­sume that all are for a uni­tary sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, with a min­i­mum de­vo­lu­tion of power from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to the states. In other words, a uni­tary state with fed­eral trap­pings.

Fur­ther­more, they are for ter­ri­to­rial-based fed­er­al­ism, which ap­par­ently means do­ing away with the as­pi­ra­tions of an eth­nic-based fed­eral union. This, in turn, seeks to nul­lify the 1947 Pan­g­long Agree­ment that en­vis­ages an eth­ni­cally based fed­eral union as de­signed by the found­ing fore­fa­thers of the coun­try in the post-colo­nial pe­riod.

On the eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties’ part as a whole, it is de­ter­mined to stick to the Pan­g­long Agree­ment and an eth­nicbased fed­eral form of union, in­clud­ing equal­ity, democ­racy and rights of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Given such fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences between the ma­jor stake­hold­ers, peace ne­go­ti­a­tions and po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment will not be an easy task. How­ever, there is hardly any other way than to set­tle dif­fer­ences through po­lit­i­cal means, as decades of war­fare has not brought any pos­i­tive re­sult but only suf­fer­ing, un­der-de­vel­op­ment and poverty.

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