A battle of Idea in a New Democratic System in Burma


A battle of Idea in a New Democratic System in Burma

By: Banya Hongsar/Mon Writer Club
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Politics was a battle of ideas between individuals and groups of people with the spirit of good depth to each other in a US election this week that saw President Barack Obama win a second term in the White House. A battle of ideas shall transform Burma’s politics into a system that seeks the equal norms of democracy and the rule of law. It is a test for the next leaders of Burma whether a battle of ideas shall be exercised within the context of a new political landscape like the American landscape we have seen through global media outlets. Obama won the election not because of his race and party’s policies, but because of his leadership and straight talk to the public regarding his agenda for the next four years.  It is time that our leaders in Burma set the agenda for the next 3-4 years; thereby showing they have faith that politics in Burma will be a battle of ideas.

The World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank have engaged the government of the Union of Myanmar for the past six months with a sense of hope that Burma will restore its own position in regional stability and peace if its domestic economy is installed and assisted by developed countries from the West and Asia. In fact, a battle of ideas has been effectively played between the ruling and opposition elites over the past three years in the eyes of those who will win and lose in the next election. This is a test of ideas for all political sides. The Myanmar Peace Centre is another simple battle of ideas between current politicians in the country regardless of the standard and principle of the peace process.  It is a time for testing the water of what it will be like if the current ruling elites lose the next election, although they could survive such a loss without losing face if they attain peace and security amongst themselves.

The aspiration of democracy has never died in the dreams and hearts of the people.  The student’s movement resumed nationwide in the period 1987-1988 after the Rangoon military –militia killed a prominent student in the capital.  Consequently, the military dominated socialist government was toppled in 1988.  A transition to democracy was within reach in 1990.  A general election was held in 1990 and prominent student’s leaders and progressive Burmese elites jointed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.  The party won 86% of the public vote, but the care-taker military government denied transferring executive power to the winning party.  A transition to a new parliamentary democracy has since been tarnished by the Burmese-military hardliners. The road to democracy has been delayed for over 20 years. For the second time, a new election has been called again this November.

A rebirth of parliamentary democracy will take place for another 10-20 years within constitutional frameworks. State and Division parliaments have little power to bargain with both the People and National Parliaments under the amendments of the current constitution.  The critical point is how the parliament can form a government from the 330 MPs from the People Parliament and 168 MPs from the National Parliament and 45 plus post-election parties. A framework for the formation of an elected government will require further constitutional amendments after the election.

Burma has been waiting to find common ground in national consensus.  However, the election will not break the common ground unless a new National Unity Conference is called after the election.  Furthermore, a legitimate power to the ethnic State Parliament must be adequately addressed based on the new national consensus.  A rebirth of a parliamentary system cannot be accomplished unless a new constitution for each ethnic state has been rewritten with inclusiveness.

It is a desire of each Burmese citizen that Burma must be peaceful and proper. However, current Burmese military elites lack political conviction and view this process of national consensus as losing political momentum for them.  It is time that the internal political forces, both new and old, convince the Burmese-military hardliners to pursue national unity and nation building under a new parliamentary system framework.  The rebirth of a parliamentary system must be found as common ground in this new era.

There is a serious question of ethnic–minority rights in Burma. Some progressive Burmese and non-Burmese ethnic leaders have attempted to find common ground through political means and without armed conflicts. There are over 20 armed ethnic organizations remaining along Burma’s borders and they are awaiting the outcome of the election for either better or worse. Burma cannot afford to be set back in 21st century.  The nation’s human and political capital has decreased over the last 30 years because of mismanagement, corruption and armed conflicts. The military-dominated Burmese government blindly blames ethnic-political organization for their insurgency.  The case is that ethnic minority rights have been denied since 1947 and national unity has been destroyed between Burmese-military hardliners and ethnic people through the denial of ethnic civil and political rights by former National Parliament until 1962.

Burma is formed as a Union of States under the new constitution.  However, it is not united as a Union politically and constitutionally.  Both previous national constitutions failed to address ethnic minority rights and thus forced ethnic people to fight with armed struggle, resulting in enormous suffering and losses on all sides. A workable Union model must be re-designed by domestic constitutional experts with the cooperation of international experts. A federal system is not a new concept in the country. However, in recent years Burma has lacked political consensus among key players in terms of vision and trust.  Ethnic armed leaders have also reached out for non-state diplomacy on peace and development after being granted a formal tour of the United States, Japan and other developed countries in recent months. However, a clear peace process that restores hope and heals the wounds of the past sixty years has not yet been systematically addressed on the local level.  This peace plan should involve the local and national population so as to sustain the process. It is a test of leadership for armed ethnic organizations in the whole process.

A small nation like Burma cannot survive unless a Unity Government is formed during this transition period. A Unity Government will pave the way to foster a better model of ‘Federal Union’ in the country.  Burma may have a name akin to “the United States of Burma / Myanmar” in the coming year once a national consensus has been reached.

Burma fruitfully enjoyed parliamentary democracy from 1947-1962 soon after gaining independence from Britain.  Political leaders from both Burmese and non-Burmese ethnic people held a National Unity Conference on 12 February 1947 in Shan State that paved the way to liberation from British occupancy. The country developed faster than other neighboring countries in the 1960s and 1970s.  However, the country ended its road to prosperity because of mistrust among Burmese and non-Burmese political leaders in the 1960s.

A battle of ideas only wins only if the leaders can communicate with the population as clearly as President Barack Obama. I have listened to the message of current ruling elites and opposition leaders for the past six months with share confusion with the larger population about what the parliament’s and government’s roles are in terms of resolving the issues of on ongoing violence in Arakhaine State, land rights for farmers and the peace process for the entire country. It is time that Burma’s politicians clearly spell out to the public that they are not allowed freedom of expression based on political views and ideas under the current parliament system. If a battle of ideas is oppressed again in Burma, the hopes for peace, restoring national security and development will be wasted resources. It is time that the current parliament granted a place for local politicians for a new ‘battle of ideas from the battle of fired guns’. If Burma is lucky, this is the final hope for a new norm of politics.


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