Conceptual difference on federalism: The case of Burma or Myanmar
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.