Mon Leadership at a Crossroads

Mon Leadership at a Crossroads

By Wagaru Mon
Monday, August 6, 2012

After more than 60 years of armed struggle, the path of the Mon nationalist group has arrived at a critical juncture, and the decision must be made to transform into a non-armed political party, or remain an armed resistance movement. The waiting game is over. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party contested and won 43 seats in the April 1st by-election, the U.S. and EU are instituting pro-engagement policies with President U Thein Sein’s government, and Mon leaders have little time to make bold decisions about what to do next.

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) was formed over 50 years ago, and is one of the longest standing political parties in Mon State. Over the past 15 years, NMSP members were instrumental within the framework of the previous ceasefire agreement in developing and assisting community projects, largely by expanding Mon language instruction, cultural associations, health clinics, and schools in Mon State.  The NMSP and its armed faction, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), pursued new paths to address challenges in community welfare and education assistance in southern Burma. Today, the party has between 3,000 and 3,500 members and more than 800 armed personnel on the ground.

However, the NMSP has come under increasing pressure since signing a ceasefire agreement this year with Burma’s nominally civilian government. As part of the ongoing peace process in Burma, ceasefire groups will be allowed, and are being encouraged, to contest in elections once they “return to the legal fold.” In other words, they are being asked to disarm and run political, not military, campaigns. Fragmented ethnic groups and armies are weighing this proposition against the threat of increased political suppression once their armed forces have been dismantled. Many doubt the free and fair nature of elections in Burma, and fear that without armed representation, ethnic rights relating to self-determination and autonomy will be bulldozed. The ensuing tension caused by such an outcome may compel some to resort to violence, further fragmenting political will among groups, dividing the nation, and landing civilian communities mired in conflict again.

Another concern is that, in asking armed ethnic groups to undertake such a dramatic structural shift, the Burmese government is offering only elections in return. To relinquish so much, we must also gain. At present, many ethnic political and armed organizations like the NMSP have modest representation in their regions, and as such could not necessarily garner widespread political support, thus weakening their attraction to the political party option. Also, in the past few years, non-armed Mon political veterans formed two Mon political parties with developed and well-informed approaches to politics. These politicians are looking like strong candidates for winning seats in the 2015 general election, and what will NMSP leaders do if other political groups sweep 70% of the seats in Mon State?

The majority of people in urban and rural areas struggle everyday with crushing poverty and the absence of representation, and feel removed from political decisions. The NMSP must address its image problem stemming from their lack of political inclusion and difficulties moving forward in unison. Dwindling NMSP membership, lack of organizational morale among senior members, and the divisive consequences of the 1995 ceasefire agreement have taken a heavy toll on the party’s leadership capabilities.

At the same time, the actions of the Burmese military government have had a major impact on the Mon population. The 1995 ceasefire agreement failed to deliver much needed security and safety for local populations, who instead were forced to labor on construction projects such as railways, roads, and gas pipelines from Ye region to central Mon State. Continued reports of human rights violations, land confiscation, forced guard duty, and other hardships villagers confront at the hands of the military do little to cultivate enthusiasm or trust in government-led initiatives.

Nai Hong Sar, the General Secretary of the NMSP, repeatedly asserts that they are playing a game of “wait and see.”

Steps are being taken to strengthen the Mon community and its political aptitude. Nai Chan Toi, the NMSP’s top strategist with 30 years of experience, remains at center stage and is fully engaged at many levels, now working as Chief- Editor of the recently launched, local Burmese journal “Than Lwin Times.” Known as “Mr. Tactic” among party members, he drew up a comprehensive policy aimed at reaching out and consolidating local and exiled Mon organizations. He established the Mon Affairs Union (MAU) to link local, national, and international Mon organizations, while the Mon Unity League (MUL) transformed its role to coordinate media and civil society groups, strengthen community development, and raise awareness in Mon State and along the Thai-Burma border. Overseas, groups are also working to bring solidarity among Mon exile communities and build support among social and political organizations.

Within its 27 key Central Committee (CC) members and other local cadre in southern Burma, the NMSP is keeping its faith in long-term survival based on democratic principles and equality. The party brought new blood to its leadership, now headed by General Htaw Mon and General Secretary Nai Hong Sar, with support of their political mentor, Vice President Mr Nai Rot Sa. This latest generation of leaders is educated and politically savvy, capable of judging current trends as they have been since they were students. While the party does not currently receive full support from the entire Mon population, these leaders are open to advice and new political directions.

After decades of carefully maneuvering its role as a political and military alternative for Mon and other local populations in southern Burma, the NMSP now confronts a daunting challenge. Democratic governments do not automatically ensure human rights and equality, as in the cases of Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo that are resource-rich, like Burma, but have yet to see the fruits of a democratic nation. They key question is not what kind of government, but how can infrastructure, education, healthcare, government institutions, and development all be accountable to the people. This is something the NMSP need to keep in mind when contemplating future plans.

NMSP leaders must now look beyond ceasefire. Nationalist resistance may best serve the party, but true political legitimacy will require brave and thoughtful action that elevates and respects all people of lower Burma.


More articles from issue 05/2 More articles from issue 02/3
More articles from issue 05/2
- Ethnic Political Party Alliance Calls for Federal Cooperation in Peace Process

- New Formed Mon Researcher To Protect Old Kingdom

- Seven Arrested in Lamine sub-Township Drug Bust

- US Delegation Meets Ethnic MPs in Naypyidaw

- Two Mon Parties Reaffirm Agreement to Unite

- A house divided will fail to win power for the Mon

- Questions Arise as Reports of Additional Military Training Surface

- Burma Tour Agency Offers Spiritual Travel Experience

- Reformist Burmese Government Continues to Use ‘Divide and Rule’ Colonial System

- Forty-Three Rohingya Boatpeople Walk Out Freely from Prison in Moulmein

- Federalism Agenda in Burma

- ‘Maintain and Be Proud of Your Ethnic Identity’ Say Suu Kyi amid Whirlwind Trip to United States

- Concerns Grows Over Threat of Increased Drug Use in Mon State

- Government Land-Seizure Investigation Committee Moves to Karen State

- Ethnic Mon in America Welcome Suu Kyi’s Visit With Words of Advice

- First Permitted Commemoration of International Peace Day Marks in Moulmein

- Ethnic Groups Issue Their Own Peace Plan

- Ethnic Mon Monk and Right Activists Make Donation to Insein Prison

- Ethnic Mon Monks Face Accusations of Partiality in Face of Difficult Political Talks

- Political Reform Comes at Cost of Ethnic Representation in Naypyidaw

- NMSP Outlines Party Objectives at 65th Mon Revolution Day

- NMSP maintains “wait and see” Policy

- Ethnic Mon MPs Meet Mon Migrants in Mahachai

- Pa-oh group agrees to a ceasefire with the Burmese government.

- Eight Thai Citizens Facing Prison in Burma

- Ethnic Languages to be Taught in Burmese Schools

- Ethnic Political Party Alliance Requests Reforms to Government Census Lists

- Initial Agreement Reached Between 88 Generation and Two Mon Political Parties

- Ethnic Conference Through to Find out Peace Hopefully (Interview)

- Starting Historic Journal, The Than Lwin Times (Interview)

- KNU says Burmese Government does not Want Real Political Dialogue

- Remembering Mon leader Nai Non Lar

- Mon Curriculum Brought to President Thein Sein

- Ethnic Mon Buddhist Doctor To Teach in Germany

- Mon Leadership at a Crossroads (Opinion)

- Ethnic Mon in Sangkhlaburi Join Buddhist Chanting to Celebrate the Buddhist Lent

- Educational Funding Possibilities Arise as Multi-Ethnic Curriculum Argument Increases

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