It has to be acknowledged that the Myanmar peace process is facing challenges and obstacles. From the outset, no rational thinkers predicted that the peace process would be easy. No matter how difficult the challenges are along the way, key actors that orchestrated the ongoing peace process and those supporting it from behind should not be disillusioned, but be well prepared to tackle the realities and challenges. Obviously, what the peace process badly needs is a clear vision for the country, a realistic thinking and pragmatic approach to move the process steadily forward with concrete outcomes of the progress on the ground.
Being realistic requires a clear understanding of the purpose and stated goal of the peace process, which is to establish a Union of a multi-ethnic Myanmar based on democracy and federalism. Achieving this political goal is a must and a pre-requisite in order to end the long-standing armed conflicts and secure a sustainable peace in Myanmar. Essentially, everyone should get a clear message that that the end goal of the peace process is all about creating a common Union based on principles of democracy and federalism relevant for Myanmar. Plainly, without establishing a genuine federal system, there cannot be real peace in a multi-ethnic Myanmar.
Despite enormous challenges, the positive aspect of the peace process is that the government of Myanmar, 8 members of NCA-S EAOs, and political parties are making a concerted effort to design a relevant federal model for Myanmar through their sustained political dialogues. They are now in the process of formulating as well as adopting a Myanmar model of federation, which is the centrepiece of the ongoing peace process. They have undertaken this important mission in accordance with the overarching seven-step roadmap in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) already adopted by the government, including Myanmar military, and members of the defunct Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) comprising of 16 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). Some of the NCCT members have not yet signed the NCA, but it is worth noting that they all endorsed the seven-step roadmap for achieving peace in the Union of Myanmar.
Out of the seven steps they collectively laid down in the NCA, the fourth step calls for securing a Union Accord (UA) that shall have a full list of agreed basic principles – and policies if possible – for a future Myanmar federation. They intentionally coined the term Union Accord (UA) and excluded the word “Peace,” mainly because they would sign an agreement aimed at laying down a firm foundation for re-building the common Union of Myanmar. At the end of the political dialogues, this expected Union Accord shall be signed by the key parties, and the Union Parliament (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) will ratify it.
Most importantly, the agreed clauses in the Union Accord shall be the basis for amending, repealing and adding provisions to the 2008 Constitution and other laws. Right now, key stakeholders of the formal peace process are already working on the draft version of the Union Accord. As a matter of fact, when it comes to reform in Myanmar, the peace process presents the best plausible path to achieve a good governing system change. Therefore, everyone should rally behind this effort of reforming the political system of governance in line with genuine federal principles.
As the country embarks on this process of political transformation, it is necessary that all relevant stakeholders, especially EAOs who have not signed the NCA (NCA-N EAOs), also have a say in what types of federal system they want. Their voices, views, and positions matter! Of course, the best way to present their views, would be if they themselves become a part of the formal process and are represented in the ensuing series of political dialogues. But, the reality is that they are not currently a part of the formal political dialogues.
It should be noted that the inclusion of EAOs who have not signed NCA is essential and desirable. The governments, both the previous and the current, have been negotiating with the non-signatory EAOs to sign the NCA. It has been over almost four and half years passed since the first attempt to sign NCA was made in November, 2013. However, other than the two groups – New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) that are scheduled to sign NCA on the 13th of February – there seems to be no sign of others signing the NCA in the near future. Unenthusiastically, though an all-inclusion of EAOs is not happening, the most important process of political dialogues and the series of Union Peace Conferences (21st Century Panglong) to hammer out Myanmar model of federal system has to proceed with those signing the NCA.
From the practical point of view, and to be pragmatic, what is essential is to find various means and to design a process by which members of EAOs who have not signed the NCA could be consulted to share their inputs and views on the proposed basic principles of a Myanmar federal model. Even if they cannot be present in a political dialogue, the bottom line is they should have a chance to express their desires for the political system of governance that they have long been fighting for. At least, it is good that ethnic armed groups have a long tradition of working together to adopt a common position on important issues; such as the type of federal system that they want for a future Myanmar. Likewise, there is an expectation that both the signatories and non-signatories would come together again to collectively adopt their common proposed federal model, which would be presented by the signatories to the government and other parties concerned in the ongoing political dialogues.
Moving forward, it is essential that reform-minded actors and forces that lead both democratisation efforts and the peace process can steadily advance their reform agendas to achieve their desired goal of establishing a common union based on democracy and federalism. Ultimately, what would matter the most is not who is leading the reform process, but what is most critical for Myanmar is whether the ongoing reform process leads to a just, fair, and good system that works for all of its people in a multi-ethnic Myanmar. As such, setting their differences aside, every genuine reformer should welcome a real system change that works for Myanmar and its people, even if all of them are not part of this reform process.
In the meantime, all those engaged in the overall democratic transition and strife for peace, should refine their strategy of engagement by ensuring that they provide their political and financial support for the ongoing political dialogues and the Union Peace Conferences (21st Century Panglong). These relevant preparations that aim to reform the prevalent dysfunctional political system of governance, from a military dictatorship and a centralized democratic system to that of a genuine federal democracy for a multi-ethnic Myanmar. Without delivering a system change as discussed above, there is no hope to end the armed conflicts in a conflict-ridden Myanmar. The good news is that the political dialogue among the three key stakeholders, the government, the political parties and 8 members of the NCA-S EAOs is still open, viable and moving ahead despite challenges! Everyone should support this consistent effort.